In this week's print edition of The Meaford Independent we are kicking off a seven-part series of articles called 'Coffee With a Councillor' (yes, it's true, our print paper often includes special features that do not appear online – support local media and buy a paper, dang it), and I am hoping that our readers get as much out of the articles as I did from doing the interviews and writing them.
The goal of the series is to introduce readers to who our councillors are outside the council chamber. It can be easy to forget that our elected representatives are regular people just like the rest of us. They have their successes and failures, they have their fears and insecurities, and they experience ups and downs just like you and me. But who are they?
When we are angry or frustrated with elected officials we can quickly turn on them, which is part of how a democracy works. But in our modern society, where 'shame tweets' or social media character assassinations have become the norm, it can be easy to forget that even those with whom we strongly disagree are humans and they should be treated as such.
To put this series together I sat down with each member of council one on one over a two-month period. I met the councillors at a coffee shop of their choosing, where I conducted the interviews.
Without giving too much away from the series of articles themselves, one thing has stuck with me since I wrapped up the final interview a couple of weeks ago – some of the members of council that I found I liked best on a personal level are also the members of council with whom I have the strongest disagreements on issues. I think that is important to know, but perhaps more importantly, by sitting down one on one, and having a chat for an hour or two, I was able to gain a better understanding of why councillors think the way they do, particularly if they think differently than I do.
Don't get me wrong, understanding why someone thinks one way or another doesn't mean having to accept their views; it simply means you've taken the time to try to understand where they are coming from, and as a result you can have a better formed opinion of your own because you are able to tap into someone else's thinking and broaden your overall understanding of an issue.
On the whole I learned that the seven people we Meafordites have elected to represent us at council are hard-working family folks who have some deep convictions, but more importantly a deep love for this municipality. And while we all express ourselves in different ways, and we all have our own special approach to problems and issues, I think the collection of seven councillors represent Meaford's broad spectrum fairly well.
Another thing I learned, or rather confirmed, is that we pay our councillors very little, considering the workload we hand them. Most members of council told me that their council duties take up roughly 20 hours per week, sometimes more, yet we pay them just a shade over $20,000 per year – so much for the 'overpaid politician' comments that we often hear, particularly at municipal election time from folks who just don't realize that a seat on council doesn't come with a hefty paycheque, as might be seen at other levels of government.
I hope you'll pick up our print paper to read this series, which kicks off with Councillor Steve Bartley this week, and I hope our readers can gain a better understanding of who our members of council are and what they are about. I still strongly disagree with the members of council with whom I traditionally disagree, but I have a much better picture of how our members of council form their opinions simply by getting to know them a little better.