We're rarely if ever asked to engage in a common purpose. Many decisions that affect constituents are seen as being done to constituents, instead of being done on behalf of constituents.
By Adrian Duyzer
Published April 20, 2011
I read about the city's public works committee's decision not to consider biweekly garbage pickup with dismay. Aside from Brian McHattie and Russ Powers, councillors rejected the proposal because they believe their constituents would see it as a service cut.
I agree with McHattie when he said that he didn't think this issue was the "sacred cow suggested by others". I could see this being a non-issue for many Hamiltonians. Diverting 65% of waste to green bins and blue boxes is a much more difficult task than stashing a bag of garbage for an extra week, and we're already well on our way to that diversion goal.
On the other hand, I could be wrong. Perhaps a majority of Hamiltonians would be outraged by the plan. Unfortunately, we'll never know, since no one asked us.
Imagine how different things could be if the city took a different approach by doing the following two things:
In a recent Spectator profile of Mark Stewart, Director of Commercial Services at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Stewart paraphrased John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what your city can do for you; ask what you can do for your city."
Our municipal politicians would probably get laughed out of the room if they started aspiring to JFK's elocution, but I find it interesting that we're rarely if ever asked to engage in a common purpose. Many decisions that affect constituents are seen as being done to constituents, instead of being done on behalf of constituents.
Yes, cutting garbage collection to every other week is a decrease in service, so some councillors are clearly thinking, "I don't want to do this to my constituents." Sam Merulla said, "I don't want the message out there that we are even considering bi-weekly pickup."
The other way of looking at it, however, is to think, "I want to save my constituents money and improve their environment, so I'm going to cut garbage collection on their behalf."
There is absolutely nothing wrong with considering multiple ways of solving a problem. Merulla objected to simply considering options, which strikes me as close-minded and frankly patriarchal.
Rather than assuming that Hamiltonians are too immature to negotiate the merits of a particular solution to a problem, even when that problem is thorny, city councillors ought to rely on their constituents as a rich source of ideas, inspiration and yes, even sensible policy.
The city does consult with residents. A prime example is the Citizen's Forum on Area Rating. However, processes driven by citizen committees can be rather costly and lengthy (though, in the case of an issue like area rating, a thoughtful, lengthy process is warranted).
Imagine a website where the city lays out a major goal, or a set of major goals, and then asks Hamiltonians for their thoughts (and votes) on particular issues that affect those goals.
For example, a major goal is to freeze property taxes. The city could put forward a number of different issues that would contribute towards this goal. Residents could then debate and vote on decisions about those issues that would support that major goal.
If the site were properly designed, advertised and moderated, councillors could gain valuable insights into how their residents really feel about particular issues.
Who knows: Hamiltonians might use the opportunity to propose sensible solutions, or even to slay the occasional sacred cow.
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