Opinion

Something's Wrong, Something Mighty Wrong

The original definition of the phrase 'to lead' is to guide someone or a group from one place to another. This requires competency, it requires the generation of trust and of faith.

By M Adrian Brassington
Published August 30, 2011

Before last year, I'd never had much interest in 'local politics'. I was a typical disinterested resident. Then the Pan Am Games Stadium Site Selection Process became a local attraction...and then the election...and suddenly, I was interested.

I was watching Council meetings. I was talking to Councillors. I was reading a ton, I was attending debates. I was aware.

Attending the General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting at City Hall yesterday had a profound effect on me, well beyond the fatigue of sitting through a seemingly endless meeting for five-and-a-half hours.

It crystallized what had from the beginning been drifting around in my head.

In fact, I think that the process had a bigger effect on me than the particulars of the velodrome situation unfolding as badly as it did, or even the meeting's capper, the revelations about the stadium.

Even as a fairly 'critical' person, I've tended to flinch at the cynicism and negativity offered up about Councillors. To me it's always seemed too easy a gesture to make, politics too convenient a target. In some of the 'observations', I've easily noted the axe to grind, the grudge being borne. There's always too much an 'us vs them' mentality.

And to be honest, I don't believe the average person grasps what the average Councillor does during any given day, any given week. A lot of the problems in this relationship have to with a lack of engagement, but I'll leave that subject alone for the time being.

However, from the very start of my exposure to the open workings of local governance, I've been stunned. I've been gobsmacked, I've felt incredulous at what I've witnessed in Councillors, what's been revealed about them in meetings, what the culture seems to be, what appears to be the level of professionalism and competency.

Many times I've felt disheartened: This is the best we can do?

I've been dismayed by the lack of comprehension skills having read a simple document.

I've been stunned by the lack of planning that's gone into independent research.

I've been astonished at how little grasp some have had on issues that involve millions of dollars.

Now, I've had it suggested to me that there are some very 'crafty' Councillors who essentially 'play dumb' in order to get certain points on record when questioning a speaker.

Really? Seriously? Those are the kinds of games that are played in Council meetings?

I've also been angered by the apparent 'grandstanding' that some Councillors partake in, going on and on and on in their 'comments', while saying nothing new, nothing insightful, adding little to the discussion - merely lengthening the meetings. (Perhaps the John Cleese management training film 'Meetings, Bloody Meetings' should be required viewing.)

And the repetition I witnessed as several Councillors, including Deputy-Mayor Merulla, repeated themselves not just once, but several times throughout yesterday's marathon session. Um, This stuff is on record as of the first time you speak it. Are you that emotionally attached to the point that you feel you need to reiterate? And then reiterate again?

Any councillor taking offence to my remarks might want to remember that we're talking about a Council (and the previous one) that has managed to generate a tremendous amount of doubt as to its ability to manage the affairs of this city competently. The Pan Am Games Site Selection Process Débacle. The BOE/Mac Downtown Deal. And now the Velodrome Preferred Location/Cost Skyrocket Controversy.

Honestly, I don't know how much of the past fifteen months has been the result of a lack of abilities on the parts of Councillors (both independently and in concert), whether we're talking about machinations by those in the background (City Staff, developers, third-party shadow-players), or pure bad luck.

But I can tell you this, as someone who as worked in the e-learning industry designing training programs for management (in order to get the most out of personnel, to attain excellence from staff, to identify weaknesses in capabilities and find methods to deal with such shortcomings): at the very least, there seems to be a need to address the competency of those executing the roles of Councillors.

What I've witnessed hasn't just been mostly unimpressive (I feel compelled to state that on occasion I've seen flashes of brilliance in some of Council), it's been depressing.

These are our leaders. The original definition of the phrase 'to lead' is to guide someone or a group from one place to another. This requires competency, it requires the generation of trust and of faith.

I'm sorry, but in light of yesterday, I'm just not feelin' it.

Something's wrong, something mighty wrong.

M Adrian Brassington is a Hamilton writer.

29 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 13:10:31

Methinks some disambiguation is in order.

Maybe council differs on pronunciation and they are embodying the base metal.

Or perhaps it's alpha behaviour and the lead is attached to a choke chain.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 13:26:26

I completely agree with the article. It makes one want to look at recall procedures... I feel as though I have been hustled and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

Comment edited by GrapeApe on 2011-08-30 13:32:13

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Borrelli (registered) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 13:37:18

Good commentary, Adrian. Council can and will continue to act this way because they are almost completely unaccountable, at least until the next election in 2014. Then they can turn on their electoral machines and run campaigns based on empty promises and catchy rhetoric instead of on their actual records and accomplishments over the preceding 4 years.

And speaking of accountability, can other RTH readers quickly help me out with something?

Go to this website:

http://www.hamilton.ca/CityDepartments/CorporateServices/Clerks/By-Laws/FrequentlyRequestedBylaws.htm

Can anyone see a link beside the item for "Council Procedures" (I was trying, in vain, to see the Code of Conduct)? On the rare occasions that the page actually loads for me, I cannot see anything (using Firefox 6.0), but someone at the City Clerk's office says it works fine. It won't work on my IE8 at work, but what's the behaviour in Chrome, Safari or older versions on IE?

Very weird.

Permalink | Context

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2011 at 14:07:54 in reply to Comment 68683

Then they can turn on their electoral machines and run campaigns based on empty promises and catchy rhetoric instead of on their actual records and accomplishments over the preceding 4 years.

Whoa, whoa, hang on, hang on...

They can do all they want. If they're not held accountable (ie, 'judged' by a discerning populace), then whose fault is this?

'Interviewing' the candidates should not be left to media. (We all know the problems inherent here.) Why is it such a bitter pill to swallow that we actually have to vet our politicians better?

And why should this be a once-every-four-years situation? Why don't we have something in place that allows for people to have an opportunity to 'review' their Councillors?

Oh.

We would if we had regular opportunities to meet with our Councillors, discuss the 'state of affairs' and generally play a part in the execution of their responsibilities.

I wonder what you'd call those regular opportunities to meet...

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2011 at 13:44:51 in reply to Comment 68683

The rules around council, committees and meetings can be found in the Procedural By-Law.

Permalink | Context

By Jorvay (registered) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 13:42:54 in reply to Comment 68683

It is completely blank (with no hidden or misplaced links that I can find) in Firefox. However, it shows up properly in IE8. It just takes about 45 seconds to load.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 13:53:38

loaded for me

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Borrelli (registered) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 14:23:17

"They can do all they want. If they're not held accountable (ie, 'judged' by a discerning populace), then whose fault is this?"

Ours. Well, more precisely, the pluralities and majorities that voted for these and other bumbling politicians. And then we (the losers) probably make things worse by striking an overly oppositional pose to this misguided use of power, and that further polarizes the pluralities/majorities that made it happen in the first place, reinforcing the rule of our unqualified elite.

"And why should this be a once-every-four-years situation? Why don't we have something in place that allows for people to have an opportunity to 'review' their Councillors?"

Hey, I'm all for it. That and recall powers. Just tell me where to sign. But isn't meeting our councilors without the power to actually meaningfully censure them mere window dressing?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2011 at 14:40:29

Hey, I'm all for it. That and recall powers. Just tell me where to sign.

Not me.

I'm not for 'recall powers'.

Not until we grow up as a voting populace. Let's talk when we have a 90% turnout rate and we have people actively involved in their own governance. Recalls are a shite way to run anything. Mostly it speaks very poorly of the ability of those doing the 'job interviews' to choose the best candidate. As it stands right now...and I know I've said this ad nauseam...but the average person puts more time and effort into choosing their next holiday destination or entertainment system than they do in choosing their Councillor or Mayor.

But isn't meeting our councilors without the power to actually meaningfully censure them mere window dressing?

Uh, no.

To be clear: No, no, no...and no.

Censuring to me implies that there's a functional construct. That someone has done something wrong (Um, how are you going to decide that, and on what grounds when you have almost two-thirds of people not voting in the first place?), and that to preserve the integrity of the system, they need to be 'punished'.

I'm sorry, but we don't have that kind of game going on in municipal politics. (No, I have no interest in discussing provincial or federal sports, thanks.) We have what amounts to an undeveloped notion, where half the equation isn't in play, so to me, until we get to that point, then it's extraordinarily premature to be taking punitive measures.

Look; all of this comes down to building and maintaining good, healthy relationships. You know, how business gets done, how coaching and managing gets done, how teams get successful, how organizations thrive...? We don't have that. I repeat: WE DON'T HAVE THAT.

What we have is someone being 'hired' every four years, given the keys to the business...and then left alone. Don't you think it might be a good idea if the 'employer' and 'employee' meet regularly to discuss what's going on... ...so that the idea of a 'recall' is absolutely and totally unnecessary? We've never had the construct I'm talking about. So to everyone who's cynical: what's your reference point? Because I've got a ton of them that tell me that this is just what we need.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Borrelli (registered) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 15:03:05

Um, how are you going to decide that [someone's done something wrong], and on what grounds when you have almost two-thirds of people not voting in the first place?

Well, it's not an opinion thing: we have rules, procedures, guidelines, policies, instructions, and codes of conduct up the wazoo, but they are essentially ignored. My first choice would be to de-politicize the process and have internal checks and balances, but that so far has been a failure. Even the much anticipated Integrity Commissioner is guided by a code of conduct that is more wishful thinking than properly considered policy.

Let's be clear, at its most basic I don't disagree with what you're saying, Mr. SC--citizens meeting with elected officials can be very empowering. But only if you have a group of leaders with skin thick enough to take constructive criticism and who do not hold the electorate in contempt.

Unfortunately though, thus far, not yet a year into this council term, we have a Mayor who is vying with Gadaffi for "Most Unyielding Bunker Mentality" because he simply cannot handle tough questions. What do we do about a character like that, and what do we do when they don't want to engage with citizens and media (unless they are friendly and handpicked)?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2011 at 15:12:26

But only if you have a group of leaders with skin thick enough to take constructive criticism and who do not hold the electorate in contempt.

These are the kinds of people we want...these are the kinds we'll (eventually) elect. Right now there's SO little chance to see what a candidate is like...our vetting process is crappy...but if we had town hall meetings, they'd address elections as well.

Unfortunately though, thus far, not yet a year into this council term, we have a Mayor who is vying with Gadaffi for "Most Unyielding Bunker Mentality" because he simply cannot handle tough questions. What do we do about a character like that, and what do we do when they don't want to engage with citizens and media (unless they are friendly and handpicked)?

We're talking entirely different paradigms.

This kind of behaviour would not be tolerated within the one I'm suggesting.

But right now, he's able to do it...because he has the equivalent of a 'monopoly'. With an entrenched town hall system, it simply wouldn't happen. (And we wouldn't have elected him in the first place because the paradigm would be in place to enable better vetting by way of a better-informed populace.)

I understand that what I'm talking about is like thinking about...well, for example, people being able to talk on a phone on the move...or listen to music on the move...

It's called progress.

I guess I'll just have to fashion it to be a little more 'sexy' for it to be greeted more amiably.

: )

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By H+H (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2011 at 16:14:11

Adrian

Great observations in your piece. I think your read on what went on is very accurate. It's what happens next that is most unknown.

What should happen, and would happen in any place I've ever seen, is that Mr. Murray would be shown the door. He is either complicit or incompetent. I have no idea which one is true, but neither one is acceptable. He's not a 20-something novice supervisor who didn't know that it's a good idea to share important fiscal and mega-project related information with management. To say to Council in public that it might have been a good idea to do so is outrageous.

If, on the other hand, he was just following orders, then we need to know who gave him his orders, when and why.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Philatelist (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 16:27:16

On a brighter note: Barring a by-election, it's just 859 days until candidate registrations open!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 16:37:00

How many chances have people had to get rid of a guy like Morelli?

But he is still here... is that HIS fault?

~50% of people can't even be bothered to vote. If they do vote many are ignorant of the issues and believe candidates when, for example, they say they will consider "deamalgamation"... even when it is not within their power to do so.

You can blame the man who takes advantage of the fool, but that really won't change anything. People need to stop being fooled. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me and all that. This is a city that has been repeatedly fooled time and time again and still feels no shame apparently.

Here's a real simple tip for voters... if someone can't tell you HOW they are going to do something, do not vote for them. Now the only problem is, you may find you have no one to vote for.

Permalink | Context

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2011 at 16:52:39 in reply to Comment 68718

I agree entirely.

Which is why I'm against term limits.

And for increased engagement, participation and involvement on the parts of the residents.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Vod_Kann (registered) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 18:04:50

This just SCREAMS of over compensation.

after the stadium craziness, I really think the city took a conscious effort to not present any info until it was confirmed plus keep the negotiating in public to a minimum.

Now they've gone too far the other way to the point where nobody knows nothing.

"Now, I've had it suggested to me that there are some very 'crafty' Councillors who essentially 'play dumb' in order to get certain points on record when questioning a speaker."

Like Terry Whitehead who is "shocked at the numbers he is seeing" yet he was actually ON THE SUB-COMMITEE. Holy posturing Batman!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 22:45:18

spec is asking many of same questions\

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/articl...

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2011 at 07:14:07

Although he takes an entirely different tack from mine, Andrew Dreschel's column today is quite biting...and accurate.

http://www.thespec.com/opinion/columns/a...

As is Emma Reilly and Matthew Van Dongen's piece:

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/articl...

Permalink | Context

By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2011 at 08:54:29 in reply to Comment 68750

Excellent work of passion Adrian, there's nothing like a little RTH spin to stir the pot.

So now that you're holding the spoon still dripping with status quo stew I wonder, what next will you do?

I wonder what you'd call those regular opportunities to meet...

I guess I'll just have to fashion it to be a little more 'sexy' for it to be greeted more amiably.

Hmmm, do I smell another coffee?

Permalink | Context

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2011 at 09:14:38 in reply to Comment 68755

Hmmm, do I smell another coffee?

Sure.

Here's the deal, everyone: a small group of regular RTHers have been getting together over coffee this month. I wanted these 'round-tables' to happen mostly because a) I find the structure of the site as it is now too limiting to provide expansive dialogue (and truthfully, I long for 'salons') and b) I'd been curious about some of our more 'distinct' voices.

So: anyone who's interested in having a coffee with us next week, email me at mystoneycreek@gmail.com

All are welcome.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Zephyr (registered) | Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:01:16

I might be interested in these coffee discussions, provided everyone who attends promises they are not crazy/serial killers.

What is the goal of these meetings - how do we translate talk into action?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Simon (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:50:41

I couldn't agree more!

The sad truth is most of council (with some quite obvious exceptions) is just not qualified to do the job and make the decisions that they are required to make.

Its obvious to anyone who pays attention to Hamilton City Council - and you can be certain council's fundamental incompetence is obvious to their own staff, business leaders, community groups, upper levels of government and pretty much anyone else who has to go through council.

This is not bashing "politicians" or even individual councilors who try hard, really do care (about their individual wards anyway), and work very hard. I really believe councilors are drastically underpaid - and there is no way you could pay me enough to go listen to people complain about potholes, stop signs, dog shit, speeders, or any of the other number of annoying day to day municipal bullshit that frankly - I don't give a rats ass about.

But when it comes to real decisions. Real business decisions. Real financial analysis. Real engineering. Real municipal planning. The big picture, long term fundamentals - that is where most of council falls flat on their face.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Laura Laura F (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2011 at 12:48:07

Because I have been asked many times before: There is no impeachment or "recall" as in many US states here in Ontario. Petitions to impeach also have no legal recourse.

The Muncipal Act is set by and ammended by the Province, and currently a Council can censure a fellow Councillor (as Councillor Mitchell was last term) but they cannot remove from office.

From what I recall from my research, the only way an elected official can be stripped of office in Ontario is if they are charged with a felony or other such crime where they would not be able to uphold the duties of office.

I would really have to go back to my notes from last year to be able to give the exact sources and etc.

Well written article... there is no job training or degree for "elected official".. for those that are asking "is this the best we can do?" - consider that there are very few people willing to run for office in the first place, and even fewer that would do a competent job. It's a hard, often thankless position with constant scrutiny in the public's eye. It's not easy, and we do have an "us vs. them" mentality.

-Laura Farr

Permalink | Context

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2011 at 14:51:04 in reply to Comment 68776

Laura, you're right. However...

However, both sides gift themselves with a pretty forecastable outcome.

People are cynical about 'politicians' because... Well, because they have no real, intimate understanding of the system, what a politician does...and they've been burned by behaviour on so many occasions, the whole 'politics' thing has become a nasty sport, not reflective of the intent of governance at all...and, if I can be forgiven for using this reference, there's something reminiscent of prejudice going on here, the kind that evaporates once a certain group of people is actually interacted with, and those who were negatively-charged against them think 'Hey! They're not evil, they' not even strange!'

Politicians are cynical about the public because... Well, because most times they hear from them it's expressed in some variable of screeching, it's a complaint, it's bad news...or it's because of a meeting or a committee and Lord knows people tend to tie up processes... They want nothing more/less than to be left alone to do their jobs.

Guess what? This relationship isn't working.

As for the 'small number who want to serve'... Yes. But look to the above for why...and honestly, I don't want people in local governance who aren't doing it for the right reasons, that they're drawn to it, that they're compelled to serve the public good.

(I have to say that most of the Mayoral candidates in the last election...and maybe most in Ward 2...were not 'appropriately qualified' to serve...and in my view, gummed up the system. There may be a case for 'primaries'.)

We need to create a better landscape, improve the residents' engagement with it all, and while we're getting better candidates, more importantly, we need to get better voters.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted August 31, 2011 at 14:44:24

Live chat with the mayor... this will be fun, too bad I will miss it

http://www.thespec.com/news/article/5873...

Permalink | Context

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted September 01, 2011 at 11:45:31 in reply to Comment 68780

...too bad I will miss it

You absolutely, positively didn't miss much.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted September 01, 2011 at 11:38:44

Quote of The Day from Mayor Bratina;

"...and so far in a few short months Hamilton has seen the beginnings of a true renaissance."

In the words of that poet-philosopher: "Really? Really?!?" Pause. "Really...?!?"

Maybe a 'renaissance' back to the time of Machiavelli and the Medicis.

Oi-friggin'-vey.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-09-01 11:39:18

Permalink | Context

By drb (registered) - website | Posted September 01, 2011 at 11:42:46 in reply to Comment 68869

Well, at least the Medici's kept artists busy...

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By AETHERMAN (registered) | Posted September 02, 2011 at 16:00:19

@ADRIAN: I agree BIGTIME with your thoughts about city council! Something is TERRIBLY WRONG when they also ignore the warnings of the dangerous Fluoridation Chemicals used in Hamilton's Municipal Water Supply. I have sent dozens of research articles by E-mail to all 15 councillors and the mayors office, advising that the toxic chemicals used are Fluorosilicic Acid (FSA) and Sodium Fluorosilicate (SFS), which are derived from pollution scrubbing operations from phosphoric acid production. Those chemicals are causing a myriad of health problems including damage to the Pineal and Thyroid Glands, diseases like Diabetus, Bone Cancers, etc., over time! (Accumlative effects). They contain arsenic, lead, aluminum, uranium-238 and its decay rate products, etc. Over 3600 Medical Professionals have signed an online petition to BAN those toxic chemicals at: http://www.fluoridealert.org/professiona... . The Hamilton Board of Health could not prove those chemicals are 100% safe for human or animal ingestion! The 1 inch thick literature they sent me, at best, read that "testing is still ongoing"! They also say that Fluoridation chemicals are not a drug, but a supplement! Some of the alderman agreed with me that those chemicals are unneccessary and would save this city $2 to $3 MILLION per year! Many cities have de- commissioned their Fluoridation systems, including Waterloo, Niagara Falls, Calgary-Alberta, etc. The bottom line is, no alderman or the mayor are interested in stopping this MADNESS! Instead, they rely on the lies and deception of the local Health Board who say they are safe. I asked Clr. Sam Merulla by E-mail to start a Motion to Stop Fluoridation. He has not done so for over 4 months. Also, the Ministry of Health and Environment have not responded to my E-mails! Something is terribly wrong with this whole picture! People are being mass medicated against their will through their tap water and food! There is also a on-line petition for Hamilton at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/stopf... .If you (Adrian) were elected Mayor or an Alderman, would you make a strong effort to stop Fluoridation? (db)

Comment edited by AETHERMAN on 2011-09-02 16:26:28

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds