It is true that in recent columns I have spent a lot of time expressing frustration - or perhaps it is fear – that we have a serious problem in this community when we have no candidates for the upcoming municipal election. I have though, perhaps stumbled upon a contributing factor to this lack of candidates.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a rural Meaford reader who was having difficulty finding information about how to become a candidate in the upcoming election.
“In your recent articles about the upcoming election and the apparent apathy out there regarding those willing to run... how does one go about filing the appropriate paperwork? I did not see any "How To" advice in the articles. Looking at the Meaford web site gets you nowhere. Does one have to run around for a day to the municipal offices to get an answer?” wrote the reader.
I understand the frustration of the reader. I live and breathe this stuff and I spend a lot of time on the municipal website, and even for me at times it can be impossible to find what I am looking for on that site.
I suppose it is a good thing that we will one day have a new municipal website, though who knows when that will actually be. When the $30,000 contract was first awarded to Toronto firm F3 our CAO said that the new website would launch on April 1st.
Well April came and went, as did May, June, and July. I attended a meeting in July and I did hear from the mouth of the CAO at that time that August 9th would be the launch date. It was said with such conviction, yet that date also came and went.
So here we are in the first week of September with the new website five months overdue, and an election on the horizon. Frustrating.
Back to my frustrated reader. Because I knew where to find this information- which incidentally is buried in the “Documents” section of the municipal website, not right on the front page where one would expect to find it in an election year- I sent a link to the reader and explained the forms that needed to be completed and so on.
After I clicked “Send” I will confess to a small amount of excitement in the thought that we might have another candidate for council. Gee, just another three or four candidates and we might actually get to vote!
Well, we don't have a new candidate yet, and here is why- a couple of days ago I received another email from that same reader:
“Thanks for the info. I did print off a Nomination Paper and filled in as much as I could then went to the Municipal Office were I met the Clerk, Pamela Fettes. She was pleasantly helpful and provided an election guide package containing multiple pages of the province's election act. There were a couple of other forms requiring a witnessed signature as well. We could have completed the deed right then and there except a $100.00 fee is required and the only ACCEPTABLE forms of payment are cash,money order or certified cheque. I did not have the cash and my bank is RBC which is not in Meaford. A personal cheque is acceptable for payment of taxes but not for council membership,” wrote the potential candidate.
I thought when reading this that yes, this is frustrating, but rules are rules, and sometimes we just need to suck it up and adapt. But then I read further.
The Clerk had told the reader to return any time during business hours and they could finish off the filing of his nomination papers, and Meaford would then have a shiny new candidate to acclaim (I couldn't resist) in the upcoming election. So that is what this reader and potential candidate did.
“So a week later I tied in a trip to Meaford with other business and went to the Municipal Office with all forms to be witnessed and the $100.00,” wrote this hopeful candidate, “The Clerk was off for the afternoon and the assistant also. Someone named Frank was the only available alternative and was tied up in a meeting and the response was that it would be a considerable wait.”
Amazing. Simply amazing. We are right in the heart of election season. If you have ventured beyond Meaford's borders into other towns and cities you would know this because election signs are everywhere and candidates are around every corner. Not in Meaford though. We don't even have enough candidates to enable us to vote for Mayor or Council.
How does the municipality explain not having anyone to receive nomination papers from a potential candidate less than two weeks away from the nomination deadline?
The Clerk was away for the afternoon? Okay fine, everyone has appointments, and we have a newly hired Deputy Clerk, so no big deal. But she was away as well? Two weeks away from nomination deadline?
This is the same department that informed me after I had requested a quick email update when new candidates file, that they don't have time to notify the media when candidates file, and that I can either phone in every day, or check the municipal website.
Now that is fabulous service. For the first few weeks after that statement was made to me I couldn't even find the list of candidates on the municipal site (For the record, it is also buried in the Documents section).
In the absence of the Clerk and Deputy Clerk the only other person who could help this potential candidate was our CAO who was tied up in a meeting. 'So please come back another time.'
No wonder our residents in Sydenham and St. Vincent don't like coming into urban Meaford to visit the municipal office. It can be a wasted trip if the people you need to meet with aren't there.
Things are broken in this town folks. There are all of these Operational Reviews, task forces, workshops and other activities taking place, but what is really being accomplished?
The Operational Review determined that we are appropriately staffed for the services being provided to our residents. That may be true, but then that staff has to be effectively managed.
And if in an election year, two weeks before the nomination deadline a potential candidate arrives at the municipal office to file their nomination papers, and none of the three people qualified to assist that resident are available, then I wonder if we could believe that the staff is being effectively managed or if the operations are being run as efficiently as they should be.
Back in January our CAO referred to our municipal website as being archaic and badly in need of an overhaul in order to make it both more visually appealing, and more user-friendly.
Perhaps we need to overhaul the customer service at the municipal office.
Don't hold your breath though- our new website was to launch in April after all.