In this week's print edition of The Meaford Independent we've published the seventh and final instalment of the Coffee With a Councillor series. While this series of articles has gobbled up a significant amount of my time over the past few months, based on the feedback I've received from readers, I think it was time well spent.
Several readers have stopped me on the sidewalk or in the grocery store in recent weeks to comment on the articles, and to share their own thoughts about our members of council. Some have said that they now view our members of council in a different light, some have said that they have gained a new respect for some councillors, while others asked why I didn't take the opportunity provided by this lengthy series of articles to hammer away at our councillors' shortcomings. But that wasn't the purpose of this series of articles.
I can take shots at council's take on issues or how they handle council business any time I see the need, and I do, but the purpose of these seven articles was to get a better understanding of who our members of council are in their own words during a non-combative interview.
If there was an agenda attached to this series, it was simply to remind readers that these seven members of our community that we have elected to represent our interests at council are human beings. Like you and me, they have their challenges and they have successes and failures like anyone else, with one small difference, in that those successes and failures often play out publicly. So while us regular folks can most often endure our failures and lick our wounds in private, for an elected member of council those failures are often plastered on the pages of newspapers.
Every member of council that I interviewed had no issue with being taken to task by local media; it comes with the territory. But all of our councillors expressed frustration with the often nasty tone they see coming from frustrated or angry residents. When hot-button issues crop up, name-calling and accusations from residents are not uncommon, and at times I wonder if people remember that our members of council are members of our community who have stepped up to do a job that most of us don't have the time, energy, or interest in doing. Yet it needs to be done by somebody so we offload the responsibility to seven people with our votes.
I'm not sure how we have come to be a society of often hostile, mean-spirited folk, seemingly unable to have civil discussions with those with whom we disagree, but it is a reality of this modern age, and members of council have had to do their best to navigate the complicated waters of community frustration, more often than not being seen as 'the enemy'.
So what have I learned over the course of this series of articles which required seven interviews of up to two hours each over the course of two months this summer, followed by writing more than 10,000 words?
What I have learned is that the members of council with whom I typically disagree on issues or ideology are still councillors with whom I will disagree, but I have a better understanding of why they think what they do, and if anything, that can help me to form better arguments when writing opinions about council issues.
I also learned that some of the members of council that are the most polar opposite to me on issues are some of the most likeable councillors as people, and that is an important realization. So often these days those that we disagree with are seen as the enemy, and their ideas can be looked upon with suspicion or simply scoffed at, yet there is much to be learned by engaging in a simple, civil discussion with our ideological opponents, and you might even learn something. I know I did, and I am around these councillors far more than the average resident.
While working through this series, I also learned something about Meaford voters based on some of the similarities I noticed among all seven members of council. In general terms we Meaford voters seem to prefer to elect a council that is somewhat a reflection of our community at large. The average age of our councillors is over 65, all seven are married, and all put their families first on their list of priorities. All seven members have a history of 'being involved', whether in community groups and initiatives, or politically at the grassroots level. Most of our members of council have lived in the municipality their entire lives, and those who weren't born here adopted Meaford as their hometown many moons ago – sounds a lot like our community at large, doesn't it?
We might not always agree with their decisions, and we might question their approach to issues, and we can even strongly dislike members of council for one reason or another, and that is okay, that is really how it should be. But we must remember that these elected representatives are also human beings and we should treat them as such, even when we are most heated, when we are most agitated, if only because we would expect the same from them.
Some readers that I've talked to have missed an article or two in this series, but fear not, we have back copies in our office, so if you are looking for an article from the series to complete your set, contact our office.