Tranparency on all sides, because we’re all on the same side

It’s always surprised me that incoming councils don’t include those who lost the election into committees or as advisors. I have mentioned this to councils present and past several times quietly, but the animus of a campaign lingers far too long in a supposedly friendly community.

By year two of a new council, frustration and anger generally becomes prevalent on both sides of the council table. Did citizens really expect that 10+ years of evil or 30+ years of infrastructure neglect could be undone in two years? Certainly the present council could never understand fully the depths of the swamp they volunteered to drain for us.

Every four years, when we’re lucky, we get interested groups and individuals from all around town who prepare and work to get elected. Those who do get elected take the wheel, but those who don’t are generally among the best prepared and knowledgeable people in our small town, yet by having run and lost they are treated as castoffs and often seem like enemies to council because the heated emotions and statements of the election have divided the losers from those who won. Those who lose an election, people with time, energy and ideas, barring some major flaw or inability to work with others, should form the backbone of committees where their expertise is strongest.

That’s the first opaque curtain of virtually every incoming council as they sequester themselves, gird their loins and build walls. Silence and opacity bring distrust and eventually anger and a town remains oppositional and not cooperative.

There have been exceptional ideas discussed at length in these blogs by interested people. There have been exceptional efforts to reach compromises on points and bring formed ideas together in understanding. In the end, with only a microscopic component of disallowed and deleted discourse. There are other places full of similar interested people with similar patterns of discourse. Yet it seems to never filter past the opacity to council.

If council pulls curtains closed, so do groups. The participation rate in blogs like this one are generally low, I believe largely because they are public and require that you own your words responsibly.

Citizen formed places of discussion can be models of transparency and should always be public and not closed groups. I’ve slacked off a bit, there was a time until recently that whenever I posted anything on any blog or Facebook I would immediately send an email with a link to all Councillors and the Mayor so that I might never be accused of talking behind anyone’s back.

Now, I only do that on something I deem truly significant to them or critical of them, so as not to overwhelm their interest and focus or blindside them with criticism from behind. Because trust is important, at the same time I have had private and face to face communications which will remain in strict confidence which allow me to better understand the limitations and challenges council faces.

I’ve encouraged other groups to include council in their email chains, most or all the angry mobs have been driven underground to silence by fear of litigation from thin skinned council and municipal staff.

These are my personal, if not perfectly adhered to, examples of a willingness to transparency with responsibility of confidentiality where it’s important.

If anyone forms an interest group, please take minutes of your meetings, work towards consensus and compromise and forward your minutes and conclusions to council quietly. If you have an idea, well formed and workable, email it to council. The goal is to assist and guide council, not to nail them publicly in an embarrassing position at monthly council. I won’t actively get involved in groups that do not reach rational conclusions with constructive proposals which they share openly with council.

In fact I’d prefer to only get involved with small constructive groups who would invite council to their meetings, they’re unlikely to attend but we can’t ask for transparency and hope for open caucus when we’re not willing to demonstrate it ourselves.

Those we have and will elect to lead our town are our friends and fellow community members, they are not the enemy and they deserve exactly the same respect from us that we do from them. It would be great if such a future mayor was part of a number of interest groups, or the leader of an interest group that sets a sterling example of transparency prior to election.

We’re all on the same side, we all have the goal of a better place to live and only ignorance or anger can defeat and deny good the constructive will we need as a community.

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7 thoughts on “Tranparency on all sides, because we’re all on the same side

  1. Have to admit , Peter, this council has piled the barricade high. I did run in the last election and lost ,deservedly, for my discomfort at campaign promising and self promotion. My downfall then and in future , I fear. Some of us did reach out to offer the new administration (members of previous TPAC’s) our notes , summaries , and updates on where we had left off with the previous council on Hudson’s continuous trail network and small farm initiatives . There were maps , minutes of meetings with citizens , and in the farm file a presentation ready for taking to the MRC and CPTAQ through our urban planning dept. The meetings were something less than a success. In the trails meeting which was set up with 2 weeks notice to the mayor and council , 4 of the 7 didn’t show up. The meeting wasn’t minuted and there were no questions beyond : ” why does a continuous trail network need to be continuous?” The farm presentation met with the same general lack of interest. The plans and presentation documents were offered to them as a resource which they never again bothered to ask us about. We then called it a day on any further profferrings of citizen input . I rehash these old observations only as a concrete example of your viewpoint. Since those times I have rarely taken the high road w/this administration and have burned any bridges on that same road. For my sins I have been chased from the pack to take up lone wolfing.

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  2. I do agree with you that incoming councils would learn much from their running mates as well as their outgoing councils. Unfortunately it appears that these opportunities were not taken this time around. Let’s be hopeful for the future. The “circling of the wagons” feeling is very heavy at this time. While I understand the need for some privacy, the last 3 years have, at the very least, make public input more difficult, more complicated. It feels, for me personally, more like a corporate takeover. I understand they have a difficult task, and perhaps they believe that they alone can accomplish these tasks, but this dismissive, closed off feeling, may have created more work and more costs than necessary. As for private groups, Peter really…. you are setting the bar a little high for grass roots discussions and political parties in the making. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to get people to step up or show up in today’s climate. (and I’m not just talking about the weather). While minutes of meetings and invitations to you to attend such meetings would make more sense once there are actual organized groups running for the next election. But I think such expectations for small, casual groups, gives yet another hurdle, another excuse for people to feel overwhelmed and back away. Furthermore, you seem to make it a point to cc the council whenever you blog or discuss anything on social media. I am not sure I understand why. If you are not slandering anyone, nor breaking any laws or rules, what is the need to do this? These positions are public office. Are we not allowed to speak, in private and in public about public concerns? And I mean speak of public issues, not pick on personally. If all is done above board – why should I or anyone else feel obliged to forward a copy of this conversation to the council? So Peter, while we will agree and disagree from time to time on different points, yes we are on the same side. More transparency and lots of optimism for the future. I just hope some of these large pending projects and plans are put on hold – so they can become part of the next election’s issues – giving potential for many, many more voices to have their say.

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    1. My purpose in copying Council on my blog posts that concerns them is mostly about simply showing respect, even if it’s what I consider respectful criticism.

      A second point is that they really need ideas and input, we can’t expect a part time council to mine the Internet in search of positives and negatives. Perhaps they’ll find an idea they wish to use, or perhaps they hear a repeat idea and start to consider it. Perhaps they’ll understand and “get” a critical point I might make.

      It’s an old habit from when I was writing columns for the Hudson Gazette. We had been blindsided a number of times in the media at the most difficult times of our lives and I resolved to try to never do that to someone else. I tried to never blindside anyone. As soon as I submitted a column for publication I made sure the people who were the subject heard from me and got a copy before it hit the streets and was broadcast over the jungle drums of Hudson.

      Getting more public involved or at least expressing verifiable opinions is one key we’re missing to better government. What I call “Perceived Approval” of Hudson councils has seemed to be over 90% and has never dropped below 85% in my 35 years here. To effect changes will require a critical mass, not just some good ideas.

      Hudson is a small town with a diversity of social groups and I believe some people are reticent to take a public stand for fear of offending social connections. So, change will have to present as positive and probably more social or at least socially acceptable before it gathers wider support.

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    2. The current council has until the end of September to do whatever it hopes to accomplish in this mandate. After that, the mayor and DG are caretakers until a new council is sworn in and can’t adopt resolutions or spend money not already authorized by the outgoing council. So there’s a lot less time than it seems to galvanize voters.
      Peter makes a good point in suggesting a role for rejected candidates. A municipal council should be free of partisanship, especially if it is elected across party or slate lines. I see no need for a municipal political party in a town of 5,000. Slates only work in a polarized political climate, with clear differences in opinion or policy. (Steve Shaar’s slate was elected because it made a successful case to voters for the rejection of Michael Elliott’s first administration.
      I reject the contention that Hudson was subjected to 30 years of bad/crooked/incompetent administrations. Some were better than others but all did the best they could under the circumstances. Global rejection of prior administrations, as we’ve seen with the current team, set up an unhealthy dynamic that tends to fuel voter cynicism.
      Peter takes the gentlemanly position that anything discussed should be cc’d to the folks in power. I disagree. Knowing Hudson as I do, I’m sure everything anyone does will get back to them eventually, just as whatever they do gets out. In a perfect world there would be perfect transparency but we live in an imperfect world, where some discussions and proceedings are best kept under wraps. We can bet others will do the same.

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      1. I’ll never shy away from being “Too gentlemanly”. One of the great problems is that by the time it gets through the jungle drums rumour mill the message intended might be mutated. I try to write like I’m talking to someone and say only things I’d say to their face. If it doesn’t meet that minimum standard, then it should be said in a private meeting.

        Of course common sense dictates the need for sharing, but perhaps one day a future council will actually get a random good idea from outside the opacity and just run with it.

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  3. There needs to be a good-ideas conduit into council, which as you have noted many times, tends to live in a bubble impermeable to outside influence, including good ideas and best practices.
    People should be aware that in Quebec, a municipal council has the authority to create and consult with unelected advisory committees, but is never bound by their recommendations.
    The only advisory body mandated by Quebec is the town planning advisory committee/Comité consultatif sur l’urbanisme. A council can mandate a slew of advisory committees, but if it doesn’t acknowledge their input, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
    Some years back I asked a former Hudson mayor why his/her administration followed some of TPAC’s recommendations and ignored others. He/she said if council ignored every one of TPAC’s recommendations, members would get discouraged and quit, so they made sure that some went through.
    This was in the heyday of Hudson’s activist TPAC. This was a tight-knit group that didn’t get changed out every few months, so they developed an acute sense of what would and wouldn’t fly in Hudson as well as expertise in structural engineering, hydrodynamics and best practices. They could be maddeningly obstructionist and obsessive if you wanted to get something passed. They were quite arrogant and uppity with some developers who thought they were doing Hudson a big favour by proposing to drop an urban subdivision into the midst of a bucolic rural community.
    Some developers hated dealing with TPAC because they would get beat up over the choice of siding, roofline or window quality, but there was a sense that TPAC and council were each other’s check and balance.
    Mike Elliott’s council changed the rules and ended TPAC life tenure. Under Ed Prévost, TPAC’s contributions are part of the overall adoption process as they are in other Quebec municipalities, but I no longer get the sense that TPAC is an arm’s-length entity with a mind of its own. Is Hudson better or worse off because this dynamic no longer exists?
    Council walks a fine line. Openness and transparency are praiseworthy, but lead citizens to conclude they have a say in the process. Truth is, they don’t unless the town wants to rezone something or borrow money. Most of these council-mandated advisory committees fade away after a few meetings where participants relaize they’re just window dressing. Nobody wants to be patronized or made to feel irrelevant.
    Opacity, secrecy and obsessive message control create another dynamic in which a usually small, vociferous minority appoints itself the official opposition and acts out in public question periods. Others who might otherwise attend now stay away because of the unpleasantness and tension. Nobody’s better off.
    As I wrote in Public Service Prerequisites, I’ve seen many different styles leadership styles. Laval’s Gérald Vaillancourt may be a crook, but he was also a superb performer in the starring role as mayor.
    Yes, the mayoralty is a role and the mayor is an actor.
    The mayor doesn’t have a vote unless council is deadlocked, but he or she has to oversee the political and administrative processes required to reach a decision that will produce the resolution that will be voted on in front of citizens. He or she has to hire and motivate competent employees, empower and direct council colleagues, know all the files and be the final arbiter.
    Council meetings are a ceremonial formality required by law. A good mayor, like a good preacher, will make them entertaining and inclusionary. Who wouldn’t like to walk out of a council meeting feeling good about their community and its stewards?
    Find the right mayor and everything else falls into place.

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  4. Jim , I really think your comment here should be required reading for would be councillors and as to their relationship with the community. TPAC’s and other citizen advisory committees can be such great tools in vetting directions or misdirections or in reading communities. I think I was there for a part of that activist TPAC era and we took our time standing guard very seriously ,sometimes too much so, but we wanted developers to know this was our town and we weren’t bumpkins bought by pretty pictures. Again your words here should find a broader venue. Well said.

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