June 23, 2017

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An open letter to the new mayor and council

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/11/2010 (2411 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

(I wanted to email this to all the members of Brandon city council, including the mayor, but the city doesn't appear to have new council info on their website updated yet! This if a tad long, so if you want, just read my "three concrete suggestions.")


Looking up? Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and councillors (from left) Garth Rice, Shawn Berry, Steven Montague and Len isleifson have their first council meeting Monday night.


Looking up? Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and councillors (from left) Garth Rice, Shawn Berry, Steven Montague and Len isleifson have their first council meeting Monday night.

You were either selected by voters as the best choice to represent them, or judged too worthy to even run against. But either way, you have my congratulations on your election or acclamation. But as they say, that was the easy part, and the business of governing starts now.

I know you all ran with specific promises and great ideas. Some of those conflict with each other, so there's already going to be winners and losers. But hopefully, instead of splitting into opposing camps, we can have one big group of compromisers.

Compromise gets a bad rap -- like when people are accused of compromising their ideals. But in everyday life, and that includes politics, compromise is an essential skill.

But if you're going to compromise, please do it quickly. One of my biggest frustrations with civic politics in recent years has been its glacial pace. I am not in favour of hasty decisions made on incomplete information. But neither am I in favour of endless discussions and protracted studying of the issue, before referring it to committee.

Previous councils have perfected the art of compromise to a fault, watering down any bold vision or outside-the-box thinking, and ending up with many decisions that seemed a day late and a dollar short.

While I hope you can compromise and, broadly, agree on things, that doesn't mean that every vote has to end up being unanimous. Reasonable people can disagree. Please don't waste time on needless negotiations just to get every single vote around the council table in favour.

If the numbers are on your side, put it to a vote and move on. But no sore losers or sour grapes, please. If the numbers are against you, please don't take it personally, please don't hold a grudge. You spoke your mind, you voted, you lost -- you can still be colleagues and work together on the next issue.

Speaking of working together, one of my biggest recent beefs with council has been its lack of transparency.

Negotiations were held behind closed doors between big business and city administration. Then, after the deal was done, it was presented to council as a fait accompli, to vote on.

City council is perhaps too unwieldy a body to be involved in negotiations full-time, but there's no need to reduce your role to that of a rubber stamp.

Get involved -- and get the people involved, too. Why is it a big secret every time someone wants to buy a building from the city, or bring a business here?

If they're looking for tax breaks or sweetheart deals, we're grown up enough to have a discussion, but I don't like feeling as if it was negotiated over cigars in a dark back room.

If there are businesses who say secrecy and back-room dealing is a requirement of coming to Brandon? I say we don't need that type of business here.

If you're looking for a good primer on why opening up that data and those negotiations is a great thing for the city -- and some background on why the entire UK is going all-out with open data -- this recent post on stateofthecity.ca is a great place to start.

Brandon already has some great web-apps (like this interactive cemetery map) that show off a glimpse of what can be done with all the data the ciy has. I say push it out there, and let nimble-fingered computer enthusiasts get cracking.

Many of you ran for office on promises of transparency and opening up city hall. Having regular coffee meetings, for example, is a great idea, but defaulting to disclosure on every tidbit of information is even better.

Oh, and speaking of transparency, if I had just one wish for Christmas, it would be this: Please record your votes.

Currently, unless it is something significant, or unless a councillor specifically requests it, votes made by city council are simple recorded as 6-5 or 7-4, with no information as to which councillors voted which way.

In this day and age, I find it pretty near unacceptable that I have no way of finding out how my councillor voted in the past.

I would hope that a motion by council could make all votes default to being recorded, but if that's somehow impossible, I ask that a dedicated councilor or two make it their business to ask that all votes be recorded in the minutes.

You're already voting. The minutes are already being taken. Why not write down the names of who voted which way?

If you ran for office on a platform of transparency, this is the easiest and yet more effective change you could make.

This will make it even easier to judge you on your merits when you run for re-election.

Of course, it's impossible to predict how the next four years will go. There will be challenges and there will be battles. You'll win some, you'll lose some. Either way, you'll have a chance to influence how this city grows and develops.

I wish you luck -- not just in implementing your agenda, or your ideas, but also in dealing with the inevitable crises that will crop up. Remember that no matter what you do, you'll annoy some people as much as you satisfy others.

Guess which ones phone and email more?

But what they heck -- enjoy the ride!


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