Commentary

Another Push Towards the Tipping Point: Hamilton Civic League and Town Halls Hamilton

A shift in the way Hamilton operates, thinks and acts is entirely possible with enough people working together to make that change.

By Meredith Broughton
Published October 14, 2011

The principles of the Hamilton Civic League state:

Members of The Hamilton Civic League are passionate about Hamilton and the potential our city offers. We want to ensure all Hamiltonians have the opportunity to play a role in the exciting future that lies ahead. What type of city do we want? What is our city's long-term vision? Do we have the best people leading us to our goals?

Our mission is to develop an all-inclusive, non-partisan civic league representing Hamilton community stakeholders to encourage and inspire our community to become informed about local issues, to raise community involvement in local democracy, and to promote accountability, accessibility and transparency in our municipal government.

These principles have been at the core of the Hamilton Civic League's efforts for the two years of our existence, giving shape and direction to our activities. During this time, we've seen elections at all three levels of government and several major issues covered extensively at the municipal level.

From light rail transit, stadiums, velodromes and the West Harbour to the airport, there have been many issues of city-wide importance recently that have long-term implications.

Whether it's the findings of the Code Red series or subdivision construction starting without permits, there are many places the citizens of Hamilton have made their voice heard - while others have said, again, It's Hamilton, what can you expect?

While there are some encouraging signs (municipal voter turnout up from 2006 to 2010 is one), general participation in our own governance is hard work - and many have quietly decided that it's not worth the hassle.

This attitude of stasis, entropy, and an unchangeable city is firmly entrenched here, and to start momentum from nothing, it takes a lot of effort. Every single push is needed, and it's a welcome sight when we finally start to see movement.

Even more inspiring is when areas of this city begin to catalyze, to move faster, to actually see momentum build. For that to happen throughout Hamilton requires an engaged citizenry, and for many voices to speak. A shift in the way Hamilton operates, thinks and acts is entirely possible with enough people working together to make that change.

Town Halls Hamilton

Last year, Town Halls Hamilton's founder M. Adrian Brassington began writing about "Increasing the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors" first on his blog 'My Stoney Creek' and now on his website. (As a point of interest, the prime inspiration came from a protracted email exchange between him and Raise the Hammer's editor, Ryan McGreal.)

While the Hamilton Civic League had been in touch with Adrian at various points, it was not until last month we met, also bringing Michael Borrelli of the Town Halls' Steering Committee to the table.

We recognize the continuity between our previous speaker series / civic meetings and the goals of Town Halls Hamilton, and we approach their activities with a spirit of full support and encouragement.

In the efforts of Adrian, Michael, and the others with THH, we've identified a shared passion for civic engagement. The end result could only be one of collaboration, combining forces between the Hamilton Civic League and Town Halls Hamilton to raise the bar and call citizens to participatory, effective dialogue and engagement with their city.

The result is a partnership between the Hamilton Civic League and Town Halls Hamilton, in which we will encourage and assist each other towards our common goals as laid out in our respective Mission Statements:

Town Halls Hamilton's aim is to create concerted, city-wide opportunities for increased engagement between residents and their Councillors. Providing the former with a better sense of consultation and contribution and the latter with a clearer image of what their constituents want, the result will hopefully be the forging of better links within more authentic kinds of support and service...thereby making Hamilton a much better place in which to live."

And:

[The Hamilton Civic League's] mission is to develop an all-inclusive, non-partisan civic league representing Hamilton community stakeholders to encourage and inspire our community to become informed about local issues, to raise community involvement in local democracy, and to promote accountability, accessibility and transparency in our municipal government.

We at the Hamilton Civic League believe that this kind of strategic alliance provides more opportunities by which to effect change and to shift the landscape than simply 'going it alone'. We look forward to working with Adrian and his organization.

Their plans for the future and their execution are yet another push that will bring this city out of stasis. One step more towards momentum in Hamilton - moving this city forward, and harnessing Hamilton's primary resource, its residents.

Meredith Broughton is a pastor to students and board member of the Hamilton Civic League. She is completing two graduate programs, one in theology at McMaster Divinity, another in echocardiography at Mohawk. Meredith lives downtown with her husband Jarod and loves showing visitors and newcomers all the good things Hamilton has to offer.

11 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2011 at 11:04:05

Tracking and charting the voting records of elected officials was a pretty basic thing that Guelph Civic League did that proved to be a useful decision-making tool. Considering how long most of council have been at it (the current crew have an average of 10 years' experience as civic leaders, not that you'd know it), that's data that would be extremely useful.

Bob Bratina: municipal office 2004-present (7 years and counting)
McHattie: municipal office 2003-present (8 years and counting)
Farr: municipal office 2010-present (1 year and counting)
Morelli: municipal office 1991-present (20 years and counting)
Merulla: municipal office 2000-present (11 years and counting)
Collins: municipal office 1995-present (16 years and counting)
Jackson, municipal office 1988-present (23 years and counting)
Duvall: municipal office 2006-present (5 years and counting)
Whitehead : municipal office 2003-present (8 years and counting)
Clark: municipal office 2006-present (5 years and counting)
Pearson: municipal office 2000-present (11 years and counting)
Johnson: municipal office 2010-present (1 year and counting)
Ferguson: municipal office 2006-present (5 years and counting)
Powers: municipal office 1982-2004, 2006-present (32 years and counting)
Pasuta: municipal office 2006-present (5 years and counting)
Partridge: municipal office 2010-present (1 year and counting)

Permalink | Context

By mrgrande (registered) | Posted October 14, 2011 at 14:04:59 in reply to Comment 70565

The unfortunate thing is, as far as I can tell, the voting records aren't even available on the city's site.

At least, I certainly can't see voting records on any of the motions. All it has is who moved it.

Permalink | Context

By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2011 at 14:17:17 in reply to Comment 70571

CATCH is useful on this front, but it takes digging, which is likely a disincentive to the layperson.

Here's the 2010-14 council as far as they've been tracked.

Dec 2010/Jan 2011: http://www.hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=910
Feb 2011: http://www.hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=921
Mar 2011: http://www.hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=938
Apr 2011: http://www.hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=943
May 2011: http://www.hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=957
June 2011: http://www.hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=969
July 2011: http://www.hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=993
Aug 2011: http://www.hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=996



Permalink | Context

By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted October 14, 2011 at 15:17:02 in reply to Comment 70572

Thanks for sharing those, Fred. I did not know this existed.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted October 14, 2011 at 12:31:15

Tracking and charting the voting records of elected officials was a pretty basic thing that Guelph Civic League did that proved to be a useful decision-making tool. Considering how long most of council have been at it (the current crew have an average of 10 years' experience as civic leaders, not that you'd know it), that's data that would be extremely useful.

It seems to me that the date would only be 'extremely useful' if the people using it had a facility to grasp and understand what the voting records meant. (Assuming we're not talking about absenteeism.)

It seems to me that those people who would have the scope to discern what a Councillor's voting record meant...by way of having developed informed, qualified opinions about issues...aren't the ones you really need getting up to speed on local governance. In fact, it just seems to be equipping the already-engaged with more 'tools', which isn't a bad thing, but I guess you have to decide what your goal is: making the 40% of municipal voters who currently vote more incisive in their selections, getting the 60% who aren't voting more inclined to cast a ballot, period...both...?

As for the number of years served, as I'm assuming you've listed them as a kind of 'strike' against them ("the current crew have an average of 10 years' experience as civic leaders, not that you'd know it"), but really, it comes down to voters having the ability to discern between a good performance and a bad, and while voting records are indeed 'useful', what matters more is genuine engagement. (Yes, I'm against term-limits.)

The difference between small talk about a subject and an in-depth discourse can be tremendous. So too can the effects of a discourse that's grounded in awareness and understanding; I'm always held in thrall by someone who really, truly knows of which they speak.

I think that's a good standard to shoot for, don't you?

Permalink | Context

By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2011 at 13:47:22 in reply to Comment 70567

Just suggesting that it would be handy to have a reference that laid bare the political record of our elected officials.(Just as it would be useful, if tedious, to have archives of council meeting audio/video.) "Extremely useful" inasmuch as it does not currently exist in an one-stop resource.

If you're familiar with the GCL example, you'll recall that they consulted with the community extensively about their priorities, then sifted votes related to the issues in question.

http://www.guelphcivicleague.ca/archive/VR2010/GCL-VR-2010.pdf

Not an easy task but with 26 months until the next municipal election season opens, surely it's worth looking into. So, too, a rigorous campaign of engagement that actively seeks engagement from every ward in the city. Luckily, there's enough time to make a couple of laps around the city with monthly town halls.

I'm not discounting the value of town halls as a forum for in-depth discourse. They, too, are "extremely useful." I'm simply suggesting that tools such as voting records can help catalyse larger change.

My note about "time served" is just to point out that there is already a lineage that is likely to exhibit patterns of behaviour. Omit the three newbies and council has collectively been around for three terms. I don't overlook the value of experience; what I would point out is that the track record of councillors serves as a reasonable predictor of how they will conduct themselves in the future. Not calling it good or bad. Not saying that knowing something about how politicians have voted is more or less valuable than talking politics with your neighbours. Just trusting in the intelligence of our fellow citizens and their ability to make informed choices about the governance of the city.

Maybe that's a lot to ask. I would hope not. Surely all citizens might find information of that sort useful -- whether they're already the 40% who voted in the last civic election or they're in the majority who didn't. I should think that it would be as hard to get politically apathetic people to spend an evening at town hall as it would making sense of a voting record breakdown. But really, all the change-seekers should do as they think best. Good on you for setting it in motion.

Permalink | Context

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted October 14, 2011 at 14:56:07 in reply to Comment 70570

I agree with everything you've said. I guess my gut/knee-jerk reaction is that 'How they voted' seems as if it would be easy to use as a scorecard...except even if you had a perfect recording of all voting-

Actually, what worries me is that the information could be seen as a convenient barometer, an easy guide to 'performance'. Which seems like a questionable way to determine if someone's 'done a good job', especially if it's the only indicator being used. As I understand it, the GCL sorted out their 'core values' (forgive me if I'm getting this wrong) and then applied this to how their elected officials voted. I suppose this is one valid approach, but I'm just as interested in the subtleties, the nuances of a Councillor's term. (On the other hand, you've got groups like The Tea Party in the Republican party in the US wanting candidates to adhere to certain principles, come rain or shine. While that might be comforting to the voter/supporter, it only really works towards good governance if everyone serving adheres to these principles...because there's no place for negotiation or compromise in their credo.)

To me what matters is that Councillors reflect the desires of their constituents. Which I guess where the GCL is concerned is easy to determine, given that they've declared their values. But is it safe to say that these values are agreed-to by everyone who's not a member of the GCL?

(P.S. Fred, you should drop me a line at mystoneycreek@gmail.com if you're interested in coming out to one of our RTH get-togethers. I think you'd enjoy the spirited conversation.)

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-10-14 15:02:18

Permalink | Context

By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2011 at 15:23:52 in reply to Comment 70573

I mostly see the voting record as an opener – find out whether your representative voted for or against issues you care about, or in fact whether they were entirely absent. Or, I suppose, how council as a whole spent their time - what issues they busied themselves with.

Guelph is far smaller and less geographically disparate than Hamilton, so I'm not suggesting that their solution should be copied note-for-note. It just seemed consistent with the HCL's aim "to promote accountability, accessibility and transparency in our municipal government." Maybe a partner project for RTH/CATCH/Open Hamilton?

Permalink | Context

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted October 14, 2011 at 15:31:50 in reply to Comment 70579

Maybe a partner project for RTH/CATCH/Open Hamilton?

Excellent suggestion! I'll be passing it on to Larry at HCL. I know he's already mentioned GCL's efforts in our conversations, but thanks muchly for bringing it up here.

Permalink | Context

By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted October 14, 2011 at 13:22:39 in reply to Comment 70567

The difference between small talk about a subject and an in-depth discourse can be tremendous. So too can the effects of a discourse that's grounded in awareness and understanding; I'm always held in thrall by someone who really, truly knows of which they speak.

I think that's a good standard to shoot for, don't you?

Shots?

Yep, we've reached the tipping point as a matter of stinking fact, and tonight I might be drinking to that!

Cheers

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-10-14 13:39:48

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted August 10, 2012 at 17:57:23

Last-minute booking for anyone interested in civic engagement but not Art Crawl or the Festival of Friends...

http://summer.leadnow.ca/events/gage-park/

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds