The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

THE NOM­I­NA­TION PE­RIOD FOR can­di­dates run­ning in this year’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions hav­ing opened, now would be a good time for some right-minded cit­i­zens to think about do­ing some good as mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lors.

It’s early days – the nom­i­na­tion pe­riod runs through July 27 – but al­ready there’s been some move­ment, with a few in­cum­bents and new­com­ers hav­ing filed their papers. There’s al­ways room for more.

Whether or not you agree the in­cum­bents are do­ing a good job or like what the new­com­ers bring, putting them through the trial of a widely-con­tested elec­tion is a good thing: good for vot­ers, good for de­bate and, most of all, good for democ­racy.

For that rea­son, we’re call­ing on pub­lic-minded cit­i­zens in both town­ships to come for­ward and stand for elec­tion – the pay’s not too great (may­ors’ aside), the hours er­ratic, the pub­lic un­grate­ful and the me­dia cov­er­age scathing, but aside from that, it’s a great job and a way to both shape and serve the com­mu­nity where you live.

Mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils do have a great deal of influence over the qual­ity of life in their com­mu­ni­ties. That’s es­pe­cially true in the town­ships, where even small de­ci­sions can have a no­tice­able im­pact. Because that’s the case, it’s even more im­por­tant to have com­mu­nity-minded peo­ple at the helm, those with the drive to en­hance the qual­ity of life here.

From our per­spec­tive, that re­quires can­di­dates who are will­ing to act in the in­ter­ests of the pub­lic. That seems self-ev­i­dent, but in Wool­wich par­tic­u­larly that’s far too of­ten not the case. As with the bu­reau­crats to which coun­cil­lors of­ten de­fer, the elected of­fi­cials con­flate their in­ter­ests with those of the cit­i­zenry. Co-opted into the bub­ble, they take on the mind­set of the pub­lic sec­tor em­ploy­ees whose in­ter­ests are in­creas­ingly at odds with res­i­dents’ needs, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to spend­ing pri­or­i­ties and keep­ing bud­gets un­der con­trol.

For the sys­tem to work prop­erly, even mu­nic­i­pal pol­i­tics must be like the le­gal sys­tem: ad­ver­sar­ial. When war­ranted, coun­cil mem­bers must be at odds with staff and even with each other, as de­bate makes for bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, such demo­cratic and ac­count­able ac­tion is in short sup­ply.

With ag­ing in­fras­truc­ture putting mount­ing pres­sure on bud­gets at the same time as most On­tar­i­ans face ris­ing costs, par­tic­u­larly for hous­ing, and stag­nat­ing in­comes, some­thing’s got to give. That will re­quire coun­cil de­ci­sions that puts the pub­lic’s needs ahead of ad­min­is­tra­tive and pro­gram spend­ing that serves few if any res­i­dents. Prop­erly en­gaged coun­cil­lors will iden­tify cuts and stick with do­ing what’s best for res­i­dents, bring­ing their own strength to an en­vi­ron­ment that will try to co-opt them.

While can­di­dates will of­ten talk about lim­it­ing tax in­creases, the real ques­tions re­volve around what gets done with the money that’s col­lected. Clearly, money spent on pad­ding the bu­reau­cracy and its mem­bers’ pock­ets is money wasted, un­pro­duc­tive dol­lars that could be used for proper pur­poses of value to the pub­lic.

The abil­ity to make such de­ci­sions is the paramount trait to keep in mind when con­tem­plat­ing whether to take the plunge and put your name on the bal­lot for your fel­low res­i­dents to choose on Oc­to­ber 22.

Vot­ers, too, should take note.

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