The original definition of the phrase 'to lead' is to guide someone or a group from one place to another. This requires competency, it requires the generation of trust and of faith.
By M Adrian Brassington
Published August 30, 2011
Before last year, I'd never had much interest in 'local politics'. I was a typical disinterested resident. Then the Pan Am Games Stadium Site Selection Process became a local attraction...and then the election...and suddenly, I was interested.
I was watching Council meetings. I was talking to Councillors. I was reading a ton, I was attending debates. I was aware.
Attending the General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting at City Hall yesterday had a profound effect on me, well beyond the fatigue of sitting through a seemingly endless meeting for five-and-a-half hours.
It crystallized what had from the beginning been drifting around in my head.
In fact, I think that the process had a bigger effect on me than the particulars of the velodrome situation unfolding as badly as it did, or even the meeting's capper, the revelations about the stadium.
Even as a fairly 'critical' person, I've tended to flinch at the cynicism and negativity offered up about Councillors. To me it's always seemed too easy a gesture to make, politics too convenient a target. In some of the 'observations', I've easily noted the axe to grind, the grudge being borne. There's always too much an 'us vs them' mentality.
And to be honest, I don't believe the average person grasps what the average Councillor does during any given day, any given week. A lot of the problems in this relationship have to with a lack of engagement, but I'll leave that subject alone for the time being.
However, from the very start of my exposure to the open workings of local governance, I've been stunned. I've been gobsmacked, I've felt incredulous at what I've witnessed in Councillors, what's been revealed about them in meetings, what the culture seems to be, what appears to be the level of professionalism and competency.
Many times I've felt disheartened: This is the best we can do?
I've been dismayed by the lack of comprehension skills having read a simple document.
I've been stunned by the lack of planning that's gone into independent research.
I've been astonished at how little grasp some have had on issues that involve millions of dollars.
Now, I've had it suggested to me that there are some very 'crafty' Councillors who essentially 'play dumb' in order to get certain points on record when questioning a speaker.
Really? Seriously? Those are the kinds of games that are played in Council meetings?
I've also been angered by the apparent 'grandstanding' that some Councillors partake in, going on and on and on in their 'comments', while saying nothing new, nothing insightful, adding little to the discussion - merely lengthening the meetings. (Perhaps the John Cleese management training film 'Meetings, Bloody Meetings' should be required viewing.)
And the repetition I witnessed as several Councillors, including Deputy-Mayor Merulla, repeated themselves not just once, but several times throughout yesterday's marathon session. Um, This stuff is on record as of the first time you speak it. Are you that emotionally attached to the point that you feel you need to reiterate? And then reiterate again?
Any councillor taking offence to my remarks might want to remember that we're talking about a Council (and the previous one) that has managed to generate a tremendous amount of doubt as to its ability to manage the affairs of this city competently. The Pan Am Games Site Selection Process Débacle. The BOE/Mac Downtown Deal. And now the Velodrome Preferred Location/Cost Skyrocket Controversy.
Honestly, I don't know how much of the past fifteen months has been the result of a lack of abilities on the parts of Councillors (both independently and in concert), whether we're talking about machinations by those in the background (City Staff, developers, third-party shadow-players), or pure bad luck.
But I can tell you this, as someone who as worked in the e-learning industry designing training programs for management (in order to get the most out of personnel, to attain excellence from staff, to identify weaknesses in capabilities and find methods to deal with such shortcomings): at the very least, there seems to be a need to address the competency of those executing the roles of Councillors.
What I've witnessed hasn't just been mostly unimpressive (I feel compelled to state that on occasion I've seen flashes of brilliance in some of Council), it's been depressing.
These are our leaders. The original definition of the phrase 'to lead' is to guide someone or a group from one place to another. This requires competency, it requires the generation of trust and of faith.
I'm sorry, but in light of yesterday, I'm just not feelin' it.
Something's wrong, something mighty wrong.