EDITORIAL: Meet the New Council…

Rossland Telegraph
By Rossland Telegraph
February 12th, 2009

It’s becoming common journalistic practice to do an assessment of a new government after its first hundred days in office and that milestone will be passed this weekend here in Rossland: it’s now been three months since the election of our new mayor and council. Last November’s election followed the tenure of the previous council, one that many in town felt, rightly or wrongly, had been marked by poor communication, in-fighting, and a general lack of responsiveness to the public along with a lack of enthusiasm for involving the public in city governance (sometimes called, by wild-eyed idealists like ourselves, ‘public life’).

The election was supposed to be a new start for Rossland politics; so far it hasn’t been.

The new council is bright-eyed, smart, and enthusiastic and during the campaign they said all the right things to lure us into the voting booth, but then so did the council before and the one before that. We still remember the honest enthusiasm for public service that Les Carter and Gord Smith brought to the role of mayor–and the way things played out.

As we’ve noted before, something always seems to go wrong in Rossland politics, no matter which poor souls fill the roles of mayor and councillors. Will history now repeat itself yet again?

Last October, just before the election, the Telegraph ran a poll on what it would take to ‘bring civil discourse back to Rossland’. Respondents were divided on the options with a starry-eyed 27% believing the election of a new council in and of itself would do the trick. Better communication was favoured by 25% while a bar of soap was the tongue-in-soapy-cheek choice of 25% and a disconcerting 14% felt that our town was cursed and that nothing would change. Let’s see how things have played out so far.

New council. The mere presence of fresh faces hasn’t changed much that we can see.

The bar of soap option. Observing the new council, our traumatized reporters have seen no reduction in the amount of kinder-discord in council chambers: outbursts of anger and incivility have been regular occurrences (they don’t all do it, but then none of them have been able to stop it, either).

Better communication. Nothing. Despite all the calls for better communication during the election, nothing has changed to date and if this trend continues we can assume that the same tired old pattern of resentment and disengagement on the part of both public and public servant will play itself out—yet again—over the next 33 months. For our part, the Telegraph approached the new council immediately after their election and offered them free blog space or a page of their own on our site to help facilitate interactive communication and offer them a ready-made audience of Rosslanders. They didn’t get back to us and to date they haven’t done anything on their own initiative.

The curse. We don’t want to succumb to pagan superstition, but we’re not ruling it out.

What to do, then?

An axiom of democracy should always be ‘trust the system, not the people who run it’. Better communication means better mechanisms for communication, not ‘better’ people in various roles. While the new mayor and councillors may look into their bathroom mirrors each morning and take comfort in the honest, intelligent faces they see staring back at them, this is not enough. None of this is to slight the people who currently fill the roles of mayor and council: we don’t doubt their desire to do right by Rossland. We just need a concrete WAY of doing better than in the past.

Council needs to take it upon itself to change their ways of communicating, both internally and externally. Democracy isn’t a matter of ‘leaders’ ‘leading’ and ‘regular folks’ following. It’s a dynamic process that demands engagement from the largest number of people possible. It is council’s duty to institute communications policies and standards that suit the modern world we live in. People today expect to be informed and involved; they should demand it.

There are encouraging signs. The Sustainability Commission, set up by the previous council, and the new Rossland Stewardship Society are two promising new bodies that seem likely to foster greater engagement. But council needs to do its share to get the message out, to listen to the people, and to conduct their affairs in an open and—dare we say it?—civil manner.

Perhaps it’s time for ordinary residents to step up to the plate with a proposal for how to improve civic discourse in Rossland.

Categories: Op/Ed

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