Ottawa City Hall has lost touch with the people it represents.
Poor Aaron Burry. A great capable guy with a difficult assignment.
The city’s general manager of social services must change the culture and image of city staff using a consultation process that is deeply flawed.
You see, the consultation process now is perceived by the public to be a dog-and-pony show. In other words, most of the major decisions have been made by the time the public part of the process has begun. Why some councillors have trouble discovering what’s going on in their wards when staff gets its teeth in an issue.
Accordingly, the public doesn’t have a chance.
So people who care about their neighbourhoods, either because they have huge investments in them or they genuinely are interested, religiously go to public consultations knowing what they say will at best be acknowledged or, at worst, ignored or orchestrated in such a way so that what staff wants (or special interest groups or lobbyists want), they get.
There’s talk and PR … very easy, you know, or real action … much more difficult and usually ignored because it takes work rather than words.
So if I were Burry, I would throw out the consultation process and just sit in rooms with residents and listen.
Former politician and diplomat Stephen Lewis has said that if you want to know what a neighbourhood needs, ask the people who live there. That should be the starting point for every city initiative. It’s about the people … not staff, not interest groups, not industries, not empire-building, not lobbying, not power … but representing the people. Ask the people in a neighbourhood if they want the 42-storey condo. They know. The people on Laurier Avenue, at least over the last little while, don’t. They don’t live the neighbourhood. Lewis was right.
Why Burry’s task is huge (maybe impossible) is that he has to change the culture at Ottawa City Hall. Staff has to think what’s best for the residents of neighbourhoods, not what’s best for staff or special interests. Over the past six or seven years, public service on Laurier Avenue has eroded to the point where the city must hold a public consultation on public consultations.
Sounds horribly out of touch.
Corporate culture is not changed by a consultation. It is changed by a slow awakening or a quick change of personnel. Usually, it takes as long to change corporate culture for the better as the erosion in it took.
The real work in returning trust back to Ottawa City Hall (and it has been badly damaged) resides in Mayor Jim Watson. His Worship must change the personnel in departments that have lost touch with neighbourhoods. It’s a huge task and perhaps the mayor just wants to give the impression of dealing with a consultation problem rather than really addressing it.
In the meantime if the city actually wants to know what’s good for a community, ask the community before the special interest groups. That’s called democracy.
And LISTEN to what the people say. And ACT on it.
That would be a good start.
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