Sunday, June 25, 2017

Been There, Done That

I see via local news media that a public meeting for Ward 3 residents was held last week, to discuss how the new Neighbourhood Watch group that is being set up in the area could help reduce crime rates in the area.  While I had no prior notice of the meeting, it did take me back in time.

You see, Andrea and I have lived in our current home since 1984, and back in the mid-eighties we had a Neighbourhood Watch group.  I agree that people watching out in the neighbourhood is a good idea, but it can only go so far - police action has to be taken promptly.  But you don't need a club to authorize you to call the police - that's something anyone can do, anytime they see anything suspicious going on.

The problem can be with police response.  I called once, several years ago, to report someone breaking into one of the apartments in a building behind us.  The response from the operator was that perhaps they were friends of the person living there, though why they would choose to go through a window rather than knocking on the door makes no sense to me.  Later, after the people breaking in removed a television, it was too late for the police to catch them.

On another occasion, when a young person broke into someone's vehicle, the advice from police to the resident was to just leave the situation alone, in case the young person decided to take some form of revenge.  They didn't even haul the kid in to give him a scare - a lost opportunity, if you ask me.

And I know of several attempts to get drug houses acted on, based on neighbour's complaints of needles and frequent, short visits by questionable characters.  The response is usually that yes, the police are aware of the problem, but no further action results.  I even contacted SCAN (Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods) a couple of years ago, and had a representative from Saskatoon (no SCAN in Prince Albert) sit on my deck for a couple of days, watching an apartment that had significant activity.  While he agreed that there was suspicious activity, and it was a location well-known to police, it wasn't enough to get the place shut down.

Another suggestion to the group is to get to know your neighbours.  Many of the people in this neighbourhood, particularly seniors, have lived here a long time.  They know their neighbours.  The difficulty is that for rental properties, the longevity of residency, and the commitment to the neighbourhood, just isn't there.  One property within view of my house has had at least three different residents in the last few months.  And one never is sure who is a resident, and who is just crashing, particularly in the apartment buildings right behind my house.

It would have been interesting to hear from the police what the current crime rates are in the area compared to past years.  As a long time resident, I think that it's getting worse, which is unfortunate, of course.  But I'm frustrated, and was during my time on council, that police don't try new approaches.  For example, rather than driving down the avenue, try patrolling down the back alleys - those are more secluded, and thus more likely to be sheltering those who may be up to no good, or at least looking for opportunities.  And since they're in the area anyway, why not try a change in tactics?

And we need to recognize that socially, things have changed.  Most people are away from their homes all day, and there just isn't the social structure in neighbourhoods that there used to be.  It would be nice to go back a few decades, but that isn't going to happen.  And the sad truth is that in most cities, neighbourhoods near downtowns are declining along with the downtown area.  I think that there is an opportunity for the city to take an interest in maintaining those neighbourhoods, to encourage more long-term residents, through things like building incentives on vacant lots, but there's been little interest in investing in older areas compared to newer areas.

As I said, I'm all for reducing crime rates, and call the police probably as much as anyone when I see something suspicious.  And I would encourage everyone to spend more time out on their decks and porches, just being visible, and do call the police if you see something suspicious.  But don't feel that you have to join a club to do so - just use your common sense, and hope that the police response is timely.  After all, individuals can only do so much.

"You can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one." - Anonymous

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Is It an Advantage to be a Business Person on Council?

One of the mass generalizations that is often made is that council needs more business people.  As with most generalizations, it isn't true.  In fact, during a conversation over coffee with my invaluable media consultant, her opinion was that the way a business operates is different from how a government operates, and that what is needed is either more people with government experience, or more people who understand that the rules for each are different, and when on council, one should operate by the appropriate set of rules.

One of the differences is that people who are used to how businesses run is that they're used to making decisions on their own, not as part of a group.  This isn't how council operates - most decisions are supposed to be made by council as a whole, not by one individual.  And there is no place for backroom deals on council; every decision should be transparent.

That's because council is responsible for its decisions to city residents, not to shareholders of a business.  Plus there is legislation that is supposed to be followed - that can be difficult when most members of council don't bother to familiarize themselves with the Cities Act, but that should be part of the learning process.

There's also a tendency of some of these individuals to hog the credit - to not inform all members of council about public events, for example, so that they can be the only one there for the photo op, or to talk about how they alone have solved problems.  This doesn't make for good team dynamics, to say the least.

I'm not saying that business people shouldn't be on council - they bring a valuable perspective that comes only with experience in having to cover expenses through revenues, one that those who think that just raising taxes is okay don't have. (I'm thinking of administration, most of whom have spent their entire careers in government.)  So raising concerns about efficiency and economy is something that should be valued and encouraged during council discussions.

My personal opinion is that it isn't the previous (or current) profession that matters for council members; it's more to do with their basic character.  I would much rather work as a member of council with people who are willing to work hard, speak up, do the research, and behave with integrity.  For instance, someone who has made questionable financial decisions, such as not paying their taxes, then fighting the city in court over the result of that decision, should probably not be allowed to vote on new tax rates - to me it's coming perilously close to conflict of interest, and they should, at the very least, remove themselves from the discussion and the vote.

I think that's what most people expect from council members - that they follow the rules and act in the best interests of the city as a whole.  After all, members of council are supposed to set a good example, not be a horrible warning.

"To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity." - Douglas Adams