Why listen to the public

The title of this post is both a statement and a question. Last night, I attended a public ward meeting with the mayor and our local city councillor, Charlie Clark, and was (somewhat) astonished by the selfish, single-mindedness of some of my neighbours.

Firstly, I need to reverse my position on the mayor of our fine city, Don Atchison. Yes, he was voted Canada’s craziest mayor by the Rick Mercer Report, but I now see that it was unfounded (or, at least, is now unfounded). This guy is tuned in. His policies may not be perfect, and he may have changed his position over his 14 years in public office, but he knows what’s going on in this city and has a fairly positive outlook on where things need to go. He is also very clear and honest about how much it costs to get things done and how little money is available to the city.

Secondly, and I should never be surprised, people are selfish idiots. It used to be that they were just idiots, but now I see that they are also selfish. One woman kept beaking off about jet-skis and water-skiers taking over the river during the summer and how one of the bridges should be closed to traffic over the weekend. Both of which are probably real issues that should be reviewed and addressed, but she seemed to think that because she has a problem everybody has a problem and it had to be resolved in the meeting.

Another guy had some issue with special needs and First Nations’ children not getting an appropriate education, but he didn’t seem to have first-hand experience with the problem, nor did he seem all that willing to take a leadership role himself to help resolve the problem. The mayor responded that the city has made remarkable headway in providing more appropriate and affordable housing, to achieve a higher level of stability for low income households. And that these efforts have had a proven, positive impact on school attendance and turnover in “at risk” neighbourhoods. No, this wasn’t good enough, the guy continued, the issue had to be addressed in the education system, but he could provide no real solutions and didn’t even seem to be able to state succinctly the problem with the education system.

When I was managing people, years ago already, I always said that if you identify a problem, bring me solutions. Bringing me problems won’t necessarily get them solved, especially because I didn’t see the problem until it was identified. If you want activity on the river controlled, do some work and find out who’s responsible (in this case, rivers are federally-regulated, so talk to the Coast Guard). If you want a bridge closed on weekends, bring the issue to the related neighbourhood and community associations, then collectively bring the issue to the city councillor and the city council. If you have a problem with children’s needs not being met by the education system, there’s about a billion government agencies and non-governmental organizations, not to mention neighbourhood, community, ethnic and industry groups, that have some interest in the same problems and would be happy to have another person to help them out.

I was impressed to hear about challenges with a popular community garden that were proactively being addressed by the city. I was also very much impressed by the mayor’s vision for increased and accessible recycling programs for the city. There is some controversy about a change in garbage pickup service that is also being proactively addressed by the city that was also impressive.

All in all, I was very impressed by the mayor and Councillor Clark and their level-headed, forward-thinking attitudes regarding the future of our city. And I was disappointed by small-mindedness of some of the public participants.