Endeavouring to increase the relationship of engagement between residents, their communities and their city through town halls, and in doing so, to gradually change the landscape of local governance...creating a better Hamilton for all.
At a time when we're seeing our civic stage strewn with stinging comments, by a seemingly endless stream of invective-images, of online vilification, of an actual 'Countdown Until Bratina's Out' site, of what to me is both bad-blood and blood-lust, I'd like to present something contrarian. Of a 'dissident' nature, if you will.
I'd like to suggest that in this time of unbridled kvetching, for the sake of argument we take a look at a notion that was inspired almost two years ago by Raise the Hammer's Ryan McGreal. Here then, is my proposition:
If we vote in councillors to look after the business of the City and leave them alone, then what ensues is the result of acombination of the councillors' innate skills, how well they respond to input, the nature of input provided by City Staff, and how they're 'influenced' by The Development Powers as they all sit at the local governance table. If there's no engagement from residents, if their genuine and authentic needs, feelings and desires aren't consistently impressed upon Council, then it'smore likely that disappointment and frustration and disillusionment will result.
Yes, good governance does happen, regardless of our parts-played, the degree of our contributions as Hamiltonians.
And yes, if you get some 'Saviour Candidates' come along, they'll impact this paradigm to the positive. But the ceiling is still going to be pretty low, potential-wise. Besides; is it reasonable to expect that such people are generally inclined to enter into an arena where the above descriptives abound? Disappointment, frustration and all that?
However, if we raise up the residents' level of engagement, then we begin to change this paradigm.
As residents feel more 'pride-of-place', as they get more involved in their neighbourhoods, not only do their contributions change things, but the obverse reveals itself: the contributions they make affect them, elevating their spirits, raising their expectations. This is commonly found in well-crafted fitness or weight control endeavours: as a person commits and becomesmore active, as they try to eat better, the way they see themselves improves. They get more active, commit themselves to the effort all the more, eat better, look after themselves better, see themselves in an even better light, eat better, maintain their resolve to improve their fitness...
And so residents, with their increased expectations contribute a little more, in different ways, pushing for more for their streets, their neighbourhoods, their communities. This sense of 'healthy entitlement' becomes a self-empowering organic process. The resident notices more, questions more, expects more.
What's important here is that the impetus must come from the residents. While it's always wonderful when a councillor findsa new store of enthusiasm and insight, a newly-blazed path to innovation and thinking fueled by revitalization, is this the kind of gamble we want connected to our local governance? That we're banking on a person's tendency towardsexcellence...when the likelihood is that the person was only voted into office with about forty percent of available voters taking part, and a majority of those doing so by 'name recognition'? Putting a fine point on it: if we have people doing the hiring who really aren't qualified, should we be taking this additional risk of hoping that the successful candidate can rise to their potential all by their lonesome?
The first recipient of these energies outside the the community is the councillor.
When a councillor begins to feel added expectations, when they begin receiving not just complaints from constituents, but well thought-out enquiries, invitations to commiserate, when they begin to adapt to the changing expectations, they slowly morph from 'problem-solver' to 'collaborator' to the resident, while maintaining wearing their 'Management' cap. So in a very real sense, they have to 'up their game'.
As this continues, as residents-by-way-of-NAs get more cohesive, more organized, more focused, and as this happens throughout the ward, the councillor must either 'adapt, or die'. By 'die', I mean that if the general level of engagement, expectation and investment increases through to election time, and the councillor has not been successful in keeping up, then they can more likely find themselves battling hard for re-election. (And considering that over the past four elections only two incumbents have been voted out, doesn't this seem like a dignified alternative to 'term limits'?)
So what eventually happens is this: Instead of being 'left alone' once their terms begin, councillors expect engagement from their constituents, and raise their game as a result, constantly fielding input by constituents whose game is also being raised as their involvement and investment in their own communities increases.
But that's not all: as the paradigm shifts to this, potential candidates –many of whom will have been active members of their own communities, movers-and-shakers in NAs– see the opportunity to serve differently. So the arena actually attracts a better brand of candidate.
Which means that everything gets ratcheted-up a little more: even better-performing councillors, even better-performingCity Hall, even better-contributing residents, communities...a better-run, more prosperous, more resilient...
Idealistic? Maybe. Naïve? Perhaps. But doesn't it make sense to at least give this approach a try, to utilize the one aspect of the local governance formula that has traditionally been ignored, rather than keep ourselves in a holding-pattern, one that has endless brickbats lobbed through the air, with nobody really caring who gets hit, who gets injured...as long as they have their say?