Take advantage of meet and greet sessions (King Weekly Sentinel Editorial)

Take advantage of meet and greet sessions (King Weekly Sentinel Editorial)

This editorial by Mark Pavilons, Editor of try King Weekly Sentinel is reproduced and appeared on February 28, 2013.

MARK PAVILONS

KING WEEKLY SENTINEL

 

Democracy is not a spectator’s sport.

While the majority may feel quite comfortable in being armchair critics, our system doesn’t work best that way.

It relies on public participation every few years. But ideally, our sense of local democracy should be a daily ritual. Unlike putting on a suit for Sunday church service, our sense of democratic rights and freedoms should be worn on our sleeves every day of the week.

My father, a product of post-war Soviet-occupied eastern Europe, made it a point to out on a fresh suit, complete with a Canadian flag lapel pin, for each and every election. He read the papers and tried to make an informed decision at the polls. He was adamant about voting, largely because his former homeland never had such privileges.

In King, voter turnout for municipal elections has traditionally been quite high, in the neighbourhood of 50%. While not the majority, King outshines many nearby municipalities who can only muster a 30%-40% turnout at the polls.

So it seems obvious that we have a very solid group of concerned citizens, who make an effort to make a statement. They enjoy their privileges provided by our imperfect system.

Democracy may not be perfect, but it does give residents and tax- payers a chance to help shape our own destiny.

During my rounds throughout this large rural municipality, I see many familiar faces – local politicians, Township staff, Chamber of Commerce members, community group leaders and residents – time and again. It’s obvious they have a pride in their community, someting that is lacking in other areas. It’s been my experience working in this area that you can literally call on any one of these community leaders, volunteers and concerned citizens, to help any resident, any cause, any time.

That’s precious.

But what does this have to do with politics or our system of government?

Well, it’s all part of the bigger picture. We’re all members of the same team. We can’t all be on the front lines, and perhaps we’re rel- egated to the bench or dressing room, but we’re there when needed.

I have seen average citizens become involved in an issue, committee or fundraiser. Residents have come together to set a strategic direction for this municipality via the citizen-led Sustainability Plan. This document, a result of an unbelievably accommodating grass roots democratic process, is a shining example how the system does work.

Many government plans and strategies tend to be top-down directives – grand schemes developed in the back rooms, forced on the electorate.

To have an opportunity to actually shape the future, with a hands-on approach, is a huge bonus.

The Township is definitely heading in the right direction in many ways.

They are working on strategic plans for other departments and aspects of municipal government as well. Currently, they’re going full steam ahead with an economic development strategy, with the help of consultants, public consultation, etc. The results will be interesting to say the least.

Again, this demonstrates an open invitation on the part of local decision-makers to involve the public – the offer is on the table.

You can lead a horse to water …

Despite our level of involvement, public participation at local “meet and greet” sessions is dismal.

These town hall style informal forums are perfect for residents to air their concerns, vent their frustrations, and get the information straight from the mayor and councillors.

Two have been held so far in Nobleton and King City, to meager audiences. Those who took to the time to come out got the scoop from their politicians, who listened, acknowledged and informed.

This is a rare treat in a rare municipality. Other communities simply don’t have these resident forums and that’s a shame.

Like a well run company, good managers treat their people with respect, encourage input and participation and actually listen to them.

At these sessions, there’s a wealth of information just for the asking. Mayor Pellegrini attends all of the meetings and is more than happy to share insights and happenings with residents. There are certain realities with King’s limited resources, upper-tier re- sponsibilities and population limits.

That being said, the local politicians are genuine, honest and open. When you have an informal gathering, there’s nothing like speaking to someone face-to-face. There’s nothing to be afraid of – politicians are people, too!

Our councillors shine in another way at these sessions. At council meetings, there’s a certain amount of procedure, decorum, rules and regulations and it can be an intimidating atmosphere. But public attendance at council meetings and public information meetings is very good.

Taxpayers tend to be reactionary and often don’t get involved unless something impacts them directly. That’s okay.

I would encourage residents to drop in to one of the two remaining sessions. “It’s our role to get people involved,” the mayor has said. Take him up on it!

The next one is March 20 at the Schomberg Library with Councillor Bill Cober. You don’t have to be a Schomberg resident either, so feel free to join in the fun.

Councillor Avia Eek will host the final session in Asnorveld April 25.

Our local reps are responsible for taking our hard-earned tax dollars and spending them wisely. We should help them!