A feeling of helplessness pervaded the goings-on at both the general issues committee and the NEN meeting. Perhaps Council feels just as beleaguered and handicapped as residents consistently do.
By M Adrian Brassington
Published September 14, 2011
Yesterday I had a two experiences that bookended an epiphany of sorts.
My day began with the General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting at City Hall dealing with the Pan Am Games velodrome. At the end of the day, I attended the North End Neighbours (NEN) meeting dealing with the apparent about-face that Council has executed regarding the basis of 'Setting Sail'.
At the centre was the challenge of how to gain a better sense of equilibrium in local governance, because clearly, people aren't chock full of confidence in either the process in general or their elected officials specifically.
In the background are my ongoing efforts to get Town Halls Hamilton into motion, which is predicated on the need for more public 'ownership' of the goings-on in local governance by way of 'increasing the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors.
Finding motivation for this is not a problem these days: this Barton-Tiffany 'Setting Sail' shift, the velodrome kerfuffle, Mayor Bratina's bewildering deportment and management style, the Mac/BOE development, HECFI... even the Pan Am Stadium site-selection process.
I love synchronicity. I love serendipity. I love watching something unfold organically. And yesterday, each interlude held sufficient independent substance to be a standalone, yet contributed something to the greater whole, a whole that comes down to two parties peering into the same looking glass, but currently incapable of seeing what's actually there.
This GIC meeting was a follow-up to the one on August 29th, to which I posted my reactions here.
Three gods of Canadian cycling made presentations - Curt Harnett, Gord Singleton and Steve Bauer, as well as Andrew Iler, Rob Good (from Forest City Velodrome in London, ON) and local businessman, entrepreneur and Hamilton champion Mark Chamberlain.
As much as I appreciated the presentations and the sentiments and the consistent level of passions, what struck me the most was how off-the-rails this Pan Am Games velodrome process seems to have gone.
I'm not going to get into the particulars, I'm not going to call any particular Councillor (or member of Council) out onto the carpet because I'm not here to flay anyone. But I will say this: I've witnessed - again, seemingly - how so much of what's been revealed over the past two+ weeks comes across as being a) bass-ackwards, b) the apogee of ill-preparedness and c) illustrative of the current tendency for Council to have either the rules of the endeavour changed on them, or the very playing field shifted when they've turned away momentarily to address other City business.
At the end of the day, I attended the 'information session and public meeting' at the Workers' Art and Heritage Centre presented by NEN. Turnout was so good that the start of the event was delayed so that they could properly seat people.
Once underway, Shawn Selway ably provided a brief-but-effective slide presentation providing a history of Setting Sail, an update on how the city seems to have reversed its decision, as well as passing two motions in response to the development, one to the OMB, the other to City Council.
As Sheri Selway puts it in her RTH article:
in July 2011, the lawyer for NEN was advised that the City had changed its mind. Without public consultation, the city wants to change the zoning of about half the land to commercial to settle with CN without another OMB hearing. This decision by the City would make a very large piece of land in Barton-Tiffany off limits for residential uses. This is a major change to the Setting Sail Secondary Plan - yet the City maintains there is no need to have a public discussion. We do not agree. Residential intensification is a major, city-wide issue and is crucial to the future of central Hamilton.
It was heartening to be among a group of people trying to react in a constructive way to an apparent setback, especially after so long a period of time of consultation.
The room was teeming with energy and emotions: frustration, anger, betrayal, a little incredulity...and no small amount of unfettered cynicism. I kept wondering how Councillor Farr would respond were he suddenly parachuted in.
I kept my mouth shut when people were - rhetorically or not - calling out, looking around asking 'What can we do?!?' For me, the answer was clear, the one that watching the GIC meeting elicited, the self-same one that my coffee chat had reinforced: town hall meetings.
Now, I know what I'm about to say may strike the über-cynical as being preposterous; so be it. But I'm beginning to wonder if Council feels, in many instances, just as beleaguered and handicapped as residents consistently do.
For different reasons, to be sure, and from different sources. In the end, despite my admonitions to the contrary, maybe it is a question of 'Us vs Them'. But the 'Them' isn't quite who the average cynical Hamiltonian might crave it be.
Last week, an especially ardent senior resident told me, "What you're proposing with town halls won't work. There is only one solution!" Naturally, I waited with raised eyebrows the delivery of his wisdom. "We need a strong mayor with a small group of strong Councillors to rid us of the damnable bureaucracy that plagues this city!"
It was suggested at the NEN meeting that there is much 'questionable' activity going on at City Hall, and that the hopes and dreams of everyone in the room were, in fact, DOA.
A feeling of helplessness pervaded the goings-on at both the GIC and the NEN meetings. To me, this suggests that with both parties not really working together (Council and residents), not only is nobody getting done what could be done, but because of this non-relationship, each are acting out their badly-written parts independently, and in isolation.
The result is a saddening, maddening mess with little or no synchronicity and hardly any positive interplay at all.
To change this, Councillors need to go through a transformation in how they see their constituents' roles, and constituents need to do the same.
Isolation must end. Bad communication or a complete dearth of it must end. We need to create a new landscape where transparency and accountability is met with participation and involvement - with engagement.
In order for the people to get to the point where informed, qualified opinions run rife, there has to be genuine openness, dialogue, authentic collaboration.
If nothing else, yesterday's interludes confirmed this truth to me. And that's not such a bad thing to get from an exhausting day, is it?
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