By David Poluck, SSM Association of Ratepayers
A friend once told me that the ONLY promise you should make as a candidate is that you will do your level best to represent your constituents and follow the Municipal Act to the best of your ability.
That friend was Frank Manzo. In all the years since, whether I placed my name forward on the ballot or continue to work with the Sault Ste. Marie Association of Ratepayers, I have never forgotten his advice.
During elections, we often hear promises, promises, pontifications of virtue and greatness. Are we focusing too much on Council make-up? Should we not be focusing on long-term community direction?
Changing Council members is NOT a guarantee of successful changes in our City unless we change how we engage that system of governance. What we do as citizens in this community is important. At every election, there are certainly options to weigh as we move to hire another commoner like ourselves to represent us at the municipal level. Yes, commoners. A commoner is defined as an ordinary person, without rank or title. In other words, average everyday people of our community, individual persons, uniquely gifted with different life skills and experience all equal to each other.
People sometimes have varied and often misleading ideas as to what the roles and responsibilities are for elected officials. Are we electing leaders? No.
According to the Municipal Act of Ontario, a City Councilor has three main roles to play in our municipality: 1) role of representation, 2) role in policy-making, 3) role in stewardship. Nowhere to be found in the roles does it mention “leader”.
This is where we need to change our way of thinking. The leaders in this community are its citizens. Only our will and our monies should drive the services and improvements in our community.
The Sault Ste. Marie Association of Ratepayers started on the simple concept of “Taxpayers Talking” and maintains a focus to promote superior performance in local government administration and governance practices, and to sustain an environment for continuous improvement and shared learning.
In August 2016, the Sault Ste. Marie Association of Ratepayers made great attempts to speak before Council about the need for a Council’s Code of Conduct, an Integrity Commissioner, an Auditor General, a Municipal Ombudsman and a Lobby Registry, as per the Municipal Act. The Association of Ratepayers was put off and was told that the Association could speak to the Code of Conduct Committee (it had not even been formed at that time). In the fall of 2016, when the Association did NOT receive a response, the Association made contact with the Provincial Ombudsman’s Office. It was with the assistance of the Provincial Ombudsman office that the Association was allowed the opportunity to make a presentation before Council in February 2017. No group or individual should have to go through and experience the lengthy process by which the Association of Ratepayers did in order to be heard at the Council level. This is unacceptable. As a result of the Association’s persistence, City Council was held to account. The Council’s Code of Conduct Policy was developed and the hiring of an Integrity Commissioner has since occurred.
When we sit back and let our elected representatives make decisions without public input, we forfeit our right to be the real leaders of the government. The only change we need to make during this election process is to encourage public involvement and review into the processes of government. We need to tell our elected officials what we want and how we want it. Being a non-vocal by-stander will only get us status-quo. And status-quo just isn’t good enough anymore.