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Council One On One

Posted on Thursday January 01, 2015 at 12:45PM

The people who make up Council and Administration of a community have one of the toughest jobs going. Many people who live in the community count on Council to do things that are really the job of the whole community. They are kind of like a group of goalies in a local rink hockey game. If the goalie plays great, the team gets the credit. If the team loses, the goalie gets the blame. If you live in small-town Saskatchewan and you want to see changes in the community, you need to change this. This article is intended to help people living in a small town understand the role Council and the Administration, and how we as community members can work with Council to grow and make happy communities.

I am offering a challenge to current thinking. When taxes are high, and services aren't where you want them...ask yourself...how involved have you personally been in community decision making? There are many that believe that their role is only to go to the front desk of any town office and bitch bitterly about the kind of horrible, misguided decisions that are being made...and I understand the frustration that leads to that. I do. However, and I mean this in the kindest possible way...if you have not taken the steps to learn about the reasons why Council made a particular decision,  and you decide to make your views public and it turns out you are in  fact, misinformed, it is you who are letting your community down.  If you are going to form an opinion, you should at least know the reasons why a decision was made...and then if you disagree, there are civilized, effective ways of dealing with it.

I don't understand the thought process of a person who attends no council meetings, asks not a single question, participates in no discussion or information seeking at all--except what they learn at coffee row--and then let themselves get all wound up and go and abuse the hell out of the first person they see in the Town Office. Generally, the person they see at the front desk had nothing at all to do with whatever got their knickers in a twist-but they are there and because "I PAY YOUR WAGES" and "I PAY TAXES"  that means to some people that they have the right to treat you, not like an employee, but like someone they are allowed to kick. Thankfully, that kind of thing doesn't happen often. But I don't think one can call it 'rare' either.

Thankfully, it's not often. And thankfully, at least if you come into the Town Office to yell, you will, if you are patient, eventually leave the Town Office with information you did not have when you came in. If you are not satisfied with that, you have the option of writing a letter and addressing it to Council. Frankly, that is when most people don't bother. They don't want their neighbors to know THEY were the ones bitching...so they want the Town Council and Administration to take care of it for them by maybe writing an anonymous letter. Or they have no respect for the process.

  • Somethings to think about: Members of Council pay the same taxes you do and are impacted the same way the rest of the taxpayers are impacted
  • Council and Administration are limited in their roles by laws they have to follow and their budget.
  • Most people living in small towns believe that everything is paid for by their taxes. In truth, what the average rate payer pays only covers a percentage of what it costs, with the rest coming from subsidy, grants and work provided by their volunteer groups
  • Development is expensive--it can take 15 years or more to recoup the costs incurred when developing lots
  • Infrastructure costs are only going to increase as our infrastructure wears out
  • Council members are impacted in the same way by their decisions as everyone else in town is.
The reality is, if each taxpayer had to pay out what the town has to pay out, we couldn't afford to live anywhere. We are, for the most part, heavily subsidized by government programs, grants and fundraising.

Councils generally welcome well-thought out courteous suggestions and input to decision making. If you want to know what is going on in your community, go to your Town Office and ask some questions. If you have a complaint, follow their process. Do not make the mistake of thinking that complaining to a person who happens to sit on Council is the same thing as taking the complaint to Council. Generally, the steps are as follows:

1. Go visit the Town Administrator. If he or she is busy, make an appointment--many times a solution or next steps can be provided on the spot.
2. If you need to address Council, provide a letter to the Administrator addressed to Council, or mail a letter addressed to Council, and asked to be put on the agenda. The letter must be signed and dated.

Firing off complaints on facebook does a lot to make your entire community look shabby--and does nothing to improve your community. Most Councils cannot take those kinds of complaints seriously and all it does is give you an echo of "you go girl.." or "right on" to your complaints.I understand there is some sense of validation to that, but there are truly better, more effective ways of supporting your community. That is not helpful.

Learning about the decisions in front of Council, and being an active part of your community decision making makes for the Happiest Municipalities. We are all part of our communities, and the responsibility for those communities must go beyond the Council and Administration.

Author: Solomon Matthewson Consulting

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