Sunday, June 16, 2024

When it Comes to Respect, You Get What You Give

By Stephen Vance, Editor

I don’t envy members of our Meaford Council.


While the first year of their current term – with the exception of the ever-present wind turbine issue – was a fairly tepid one, in the first weeks of 2012 councillors must feel like they have been thrown into a pot of boiling water.


Residents upset about a proposed waste to energy facility, calls for council to do more to protect our heritage buildings, an order to pay more than $600,000 in legal costs to the defendants in the Georgian Beach Road case, the debate about whether to continue with the Georgian Beach Road appeal, the resignation of CAO Frank Miele, the list of important and serious issues being dropped in the laps of our councillors is growing.


Now more than ever we need a strong council. A council that can both listen to the concerns of citizens while rolling up their sleeves to find solutions to the wide range of issues before them.

A valuable commodity, and a critical source of strength for any government, is the trust and respect of their constituents. That can be hard to come by in an age when voters have become less than willing to place blind trust in their elected representatives, and instead tend to look upon politicians with suspicion until they prove themselves to the public.


And while our council has at times expressed frustration at the occasional lack of respect they feel has been exhibited by vocal, concerned residents, as we were all taught in our younger years, you have to show respect in order to receive it.


One might think that Councillor Deborah Young would understand this more than any other member of council.


In November Young became engaged in a heated exchange with some angry residents during a dinner recess at a council meeting. As the exchange continued, Councillor Young in a raised voice declared that she had never been treated in such a way, and vowed to resign.


So it is puzzling that at the most recent meeting of council on January 9, Young exhibited a stunning lack of respect for Meaford residents.


A representative of the Meaford Against Gasification Group (MAGG) came before council during public question period seeking clarification of the scope of the proposed waste to energy facility, and an explanation of the terms “biomass” and “waste to energy” which have both been used in press releases from the municipality in recent months.


The MAGG representative was respectful. She began her question by thanking all members of council for having attended the MAGG public meeting the week prior, and at no time raised her voice, or said anything derogatory to any of the members of council or staff. She did press council and the CAO for further clarification when the answers given were confusing at best, but at no time was the representative disrespectful.


After the questions had been asked and answers, such as they were, had been given, Councillor Young muttered “These people are just too frigging much.”


These people? Too frigging much?


Everyone in the council chamber heard the comment, and when viewing the television broadcast of the meeting, it was certainly picked up by Young’s microphone.


“These people,” all members of council should be reminded are the constituents that they have been elected to represent. “These people” whether any particular member of council agrees with their views or not, are expressing concern for their community, and asking questions of the people they have elected to represent the best interests of their municipality.


Certainly residents need to show respect when interacting with members of council, and nobody would deny that there have been times when a distinct lack of respect has been shown to our council.


I would suggest however, that members of council themselves should set the example. They should be able to rise above the temptation to express their own frustrations when dealing with the public.


Anyone seeking public office must know that elected representatives rarely hear from content constituents. Those who are content have little need to engage with the governing system. The people politicians hear from most are those with concerns. And sometimes people with concerns become vocal, and they can even let their emotions get the best of them, so it is incumbent upon the elected representatives to remain calm, and set the tone.


Referring to constituents as “these people,” or suggesting that they are “too frigging much,” does not seem to be the best way to let those that elected you know that you are listening, and taking their concerns under consideration.


Our councillors have a tough job. More often than not it is a thankless job. And councillors should certainly be respected and supported in the role that they were elected to fill. They have put themselves out there to do a job that most of us would never consider doing. There would be few that would argue against the valuable service our members of council provide to our community.


What voters want most in the people they elect is leadership. Leaders rise above. Leaders bite their lip when they need to. Leaders set the tone for those they are charged with representing.


One of the basic lessons we teach our children is that two wrongs don’t make a right.


If a member of council is frustrated by a lack of respect being shown on the part of their constituents, before pointing an accusing finger at the public, they would be wise to first look in a mirror.


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