Along with the beginning of a new year, we are also entering into the final months of the current term of our Meaford Council.
Before long we will likely start to see candidates announce that they will make a run for a seat around the half circle that is the Meaford Council table.
I have to wonder who would want to put their name on the ballot given the recent political climate in this town. Our 'group of seven' has endured plenty of criticism during their term. Much of it deserved, some of it not. They've been called names, had their integrity and intelligence questioned, and they've even been slapped with a lawsuit.
Doesn't exactly make for an appealing 'help wanted' advertisement.
So why would anyone want to expose themselves to that kind of abuse?
I suspect that everyone who will decide to throw their name into the ring will do so for many of the same reasons that the current crew did.
They will want to contribute to their community and bring about positive change.
No matter what we think about the performance of our members of council, we can't escape the fact that they are all human, and it is highly unlikely that any of them sought election in order to make a mess of things.
Though it can be entertaining to sit back and point out the failings of elected representatives, it is usually not very productive. Politician bashing has been a favourite sport of the general population since we first decided that we should entrust a select few with the job of leading and representing the many.
What many of us fail to realize though, is that when we participate in the bashing of our elected representatives, we are really criticizing ourselves. We elect our leaders from a pool of candidates who are our peers. Every day people just like the rest of us with jobs, families, strengths and weaknesses.
And then we pick them apart as though we could do so much better, and in the process we tend to forget that these people offered themselves up to serve us. The people who decide to run for election are offering their services to do something that the rest of us aren't willing or able to do.
Sure they make mistakes, humans tend to do that, but constant criticism can't be helpful, especially when that criticism takes on a personal tone. It has often been said that the way we as electors treat our politicians has caused many of the best and brightest among us to avoid the temptation to seek election and serve their communities- and who could blame them?
There are times to be critical so long as the criticism is limited to an issue, a process, or a decision and isn't designed to demean, degrade, or unduly embarrass the individual.
So as we look toward the pending municipal election campaign, rather than spend a lot of time listing all the things that this council and its individual members have done wrong, I think it is far more important to ask ourselves what we need in a municipal council.
I would suggest that first and foremost what we need is leadership. Every single member of council must be a leader. They must stand up for what they feel is right, and what is in the best interests of those they represent. There is no room on council for waffling.
Next we need team players. You will rarely get seven people to agree completely on a given issue. If the expectation is that council always be completely unified in decisions, then we might as well appoint one person in the role of dictator.
That said, members of council must always remember that as individual councillors they have no power or authority- that can only be found in the collective group.
So when decisions are made by council as a whole, the individuals must move forward and accept responsibility for what has been decided. Undermining of council decisions by one councillor by continuing to debate an issue isn't healthy.
That doesn't mean that councillors need to be sheep and follow the flock without ever ruffling feathers. But the time for debate is before the vote, and if a councillor has a strong conviction about an issue, it is their responsibility to exercise their leadership skills and attempt to convince their fellow councillors before a decision is made.
If attempts to convince are unsuccessful, then a councillor has to accept the fact that majority rules, and move on.
All elected representatives have no trouble accepting that the majority rules when they have more votes than the next candidate at the end of election day, so they must also suck it up and respect democracy at work once they assume the post.
Many would suggest that the other important characteristics required of a councillor would be honesty and integrity. I would argue that if a candidate is a true leader and team player, then they will already possess those qualities.
The third critical ability that I think a councillor requires is the ability to listen. We elect our councillors based on what they tell us their views are, and in a sense we give them approval to carry their platform to the council table and approach the job based on what they told us they believe.
But they still need to listen to the voters. Consultation with the taxpayer should not end the day after an election. Ongoing communication is critical, and if a councillor is to truly represent those that elected them, there may even be times when they have to set aside their own view in order to ensure that the desires of the residents are respected.
I look forward to the coming election campaign, and I truly hope that there will be a full slate of interesting and capable candidates for us to consider.
I hope that there are some brave souls willing to offer their service to our community in spite of how elected officials tend to be treated.
There is an old saying- 'You get the government that you deserve'.
In my opinion we also get the candidates we deserve.