Tuesday, November 1, 2016

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

After 16 years, I'm no longer representing Ward 3 on City Council.  I'm disappointed, of course.  It's like being fired.  It's as though some residents of Ward 3 said "It's not like you've done a bad job, we're just wanting a change."  Perhaps some thought that I'm past my best before date.  That's the thing about democracy - voters get to decide, which is how it should be.  I know that every defeated candidate feels that they had something valuable to offer.  And every candidate deserves kudos for being willing to put themselves out there, because as soon as you do, you become a target.

There are those who say that being on council is a thankless job.  They're wrong.  I'm quite gratified with the phone calls, emails and conversations I've had with people since last Wednesday, and before, saying thank you for my years of work, and recognizing that I always did  my best to remain true to what I see as the fundamentals of the job - standing up for the people who live in Ward 3, and trying to get more of the benefits for residents of the ward that other city residents take for granted - for example, it took seven years to get recyling bins for Ward 3, even though they were paying for them, but it finally happened.

I did have several people comment on how frustrating it must have been to deal with administration at times.  Where there are many good people at City Hall, I could never get a good explanation as to why my inquiries went unanswered for weeks, months, and in some cases years, when other members of council got much quicker service.  I could not seem to get across the message that these inquiries came from tax-payers who were having trouble getting answers, and that not answering my questions on their behalf was disrespectful to the people who pay the salaries of every individual at city hall.

Are there things that I won't miss?  Of course.  The petty politics that have nothing to do with the job would astound people I'm sure.  You would not believe how some members of council worry about where they sit in meetings - at times it seemed like kindergarten.  I won't miss pancake breakfasts - I don't like pancakes, but so many good initiatives in the community use these breakfasts as a way of increasing visibility and raising money, and as a councillor, you're invited to them all.  I won't miss the anonymous comments on local news websites -  for me, if you can't be bothered to contact me directly about your concerns, your contributions are just so much hot air.

I never minded being the only vote for or against a proposal.  My first time standing alone on a vote was in my first few months.  A group home for parolees, legal under the guidelines at the time, became an issue when neighbours found out, when a resident was accidentally dropped off at the wrong place.  The home had been in existence for more than two years with no problems, providing a service desperately needed in this community, but a council chamber full of emotional people was enough to sway the votes of everyone else.  I didn't get it, but the bylaw was soon amended, and we still turn down group home zoning if it's in the "wrong" neighbourhood - the most recent being a  home for high-school students that was turned down on the imaginary but politically correct reason of concerns about parking.  Thinking back on that original vote, how much would having secure, supervised housing for parolees help with crime rates?  You have new and returning members of council who talk about being concerned about crime in the city - will they take action, or just keep on talking.

Also in my first term on council I voted against third reading on a bylaw that would increase water rates.  That earned me a public dressing down from the mayor at the time, accusing me of costing the city money and ignoring the fact that according to the Cities Act, any member of council is free to vote against third reading of a bylaw in the first meeting.  It wasn't the last time a mayor tried to intimidate me through public shaming - fortunately I'm fairly familiar with the Cities Act, as all members of council should be (but aren't).  Sadly, council still piles increases into water bills, promising to review the proposed increases before they come to pass, but not doing so when the time comes.

I do have some suggestions for the new council - don't be afraid to stand up if you think that something stinks.  I got tired of hearing from other members of council that we should all vote together on contentious things, because then no individuals could be blamed.  Or that we should all vote together because we're a team, or because that's what the mayor wants.  As far as I'm concerned, if you see a problem, you're obligated to the people who elected you, not to covering the butts of the other people around the table, or who work for the city.  In fact, if you'll look around the room, you'll realize that none of your colleagues voted for you - they voted for themselves.

Your council colleagues are not your friends.  You should have civil relationships, but that doesn't mean that you're friends.  I'm lucky - after 16 years on council, I've had three colleagues whom I consider as friends.  Where you will make new friends is by meeting constituents through council work - I've been lucky that way too.

Stand up for what you think is right, and be ready to explain yourself.  I started this blog as a way of doing that, and I've received innumerable comments about how knowing more of the background was really helpful.

Ask the hard questions.  Too often members of council suggest that having something discussed in public might be embarrassing to individuals.  I'm sorry, embarrassment isn't one of the reasons in the Cities Act for keeping things confidential.  Again, your responsibility is to the residents of the city as a whole, and you won't be doing your job if you just let things slide, even though it might make meetings more pleasant.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of - I raised the issue of lead water service connections, and some improvement has happened.  You might not remember, but at the time other members of council called me a fear-monger, and suggested that we should wait until it was proven that lead in water was a health hazard.  Yes, sadly, there's no requirement for the mayor or councillors to be well-informed.  As I mentioned earlier, I got recycling bins in place across the city, although I wasn't done - I was still fighting for all homes to have individual bins, and not have to rely on huge dumpsters in alleys.  I raised issues at budget time that often succeeded in having proposed expenditures brought into the public view - for example, most of council was fine with having the Borealis bail-out hidden in the budget.  We still ended up losing that fight, but at least it was in the open.  I succeeded in getting a tax exemption for the Recycle Store - something that helps to build more houses through Habitat for Humanity, focused on providing affordable housing for those in lower income brackets.  This is a cause that I've supported since before my time on council, because I know that it  makes a real difference to people without a lot of resources.

Some of the calls I've had since the election have been with people second-guessing what I could have done differently.  After one such call, Andrea asked me "Would you have changed anything you did?"  And I have to say that no, considering all the factors, I still would have done the same thing.  Perhaps it comes down to what Andrea has said consistently over the last sixteen years - I'm a good councillor, but not so good as a politician.  Which is how it should be.

I appreciate all the support I received during the election - having people call and ask for lawn signs, or spend a morning hammering them in, was quite heart-warming.  My invaluable media consultant provides advice that I could never afford to pay for.  I appreciate those who were available for conversations  - having that support, from people who are still supportive after the election, is another illustration of what true friendship is.

As always, the support from my family was and is unwavering.  Ingrid helped with my first campaign - she couldn't vote, but she helped fold flyers, which got her some civic marks in her history class.  Guthrie has been able to vote for me a few times, and told Andrea that the best thing that he's learned over the past sixteen years is the importance of standing up for what you think is right.  That makes me feel good.  And Andrea, whose continuous optimism and cheerfulness balances my more pessimistic outlook, is the reason why this blog comes out free of grammar and spelling errors.

Several people have asked that the blog continue, as they value the additional information and insight that it provides.  So when an issue catches my interest, I'll post something.  Even after 317 posts, I still have things to say.  And if it helps to bring issues to light, all the better.  Just as when I was a councillor, I'll do my best for the residents of Ward 3.  After all, I still live here.

"Truth is stranger than any fiction I've seen." - Hunter S. Thompson

1 comment:

Connie said...

Thank you Lee. I sincerely appreciate your dedication to our city...our conversations about a bike program...your heart and understanding of this ward,a very mixed bag of homeowners, renters and homeless, is substantially better than the small sighted individual who played a dirty game to begin with...I truly believe it was because of your conscience and asking questions that you did not get in...get the questioners out and let the weak in...The unfair treatment by the herald in our community was hateful to some or even very noticeably biased towards others is suspect. The phony Real News 3.14 was ridiculous and pathetic. This was the worst campaign in part spirited by the "good people" you know the ones...some may have had access to provincial voter lists...because of the many that hung out at Nicole Rancourts office like Tera, like Gregg...the bullying by some of their goons towards Josh Morrows group, including our own ward 3 candidate going to the home of one of our teams home...the one that owns the limo...it was ugly and fortunately we do have pictures of him on his cell in front of their home...I for one will never vote for the NDP again...and when it comes up, will come out swinging...I did not get asked for ID or show ID at City Hall when I voted...and in case you have not seen our new ward 3's councilors post I will try to attach it...take care of yourself and Andrea...

Well I can't leave it here...but email me at buffalo.whisperer59@gmail.com I will forward it there... It is hateful. And the guy owes years of back taxes...that alone should not qualify him.