04
Mar
10

FINAL_Strat_Dev_Document

London_Initiatives_Jan2010

Above are the outcomes of London’s Strengthening Neighbourhoods Task Force and the 5-year implementation plan. I will have a closer look over the coming days and give some deeper thought to this document. As some now know, I am currently considering how I can apply my skills and experience to creating an organization to advance Democratic Action in London Ontario. I believe there are a number of opportunities identified within this report that create opportunities for such an organization to exist and to aid City Hall in implementing these recommendations. How it is funded is another question.

If you have ideas or know of groups/local leaders that I should be speaking with, I welcome your suggestions, comments and feedback. Am I reinventing the wheel? Are there existing groups that I could work with to strengthen their ability to act and attract new members, greater publicity and media attention? Am I simply mad for thinking that Londoners even desire to be more involved with their City government.

The recommendations that drive me the most have regard to Civic engagement. Low Voter turnout has been identified as one of the major issues London faces. The City average turnout in the last election was 40 percent. That of course simply speaks to eligible voters, a number that doesn’t include new Canadians who do not have the right to vote in civic elections. This is also a one-sided conversation and it cannot be. By one-sided I mean that governments cannot expect people to turn out every 4 years if they do not feel engaged in the building of their community in the other 3-years. How do we round out the conversation.

When it was announced by the City, this group attracted over 100 volunteer participants. Clearly there is latent demand for a feedback loop to City Hall. A number of recommendations in the report speak to the need for City Hall to engage citizens to a greater degree, particularly through City Councillors.

However, If you and I have met and talked about London City Hall, you no doubt know that I strongly believe that our City Council needs to be full-time. This is the simplest way, if somewhat costly, to create a more engaged community. Too often in the last 6 months, I’ve heard news stories of City Councillors using the excuse that they were unaware of some issue – whether it be property standards violations in the Fanshawe College area or the purchase of a separated Garbage Truck or the tax treatment of The Highland Country Club. Other issues scream of a lack of involvement and control by our Part-time City Council: The Wortley Village Development proposal and the Bike Lane issue on Colborne Street both appear to have caught City Councillors unaware.

Full-time Councillors could be more reasonably held to account. As it stands, one City Councillor I’ve met with has already identified an issue relative to the amount of her own money that she must spend to engage her community. How upset can you be at someone who has to spend their own money to do the job of building community. City Councillors are not just members of the board of the Corporation of the City of London. They must become our civic leaders. They must be directly involved in the creation of community as organizers. Without the job paying a living salary, this will not happen. Too often it falls to a Real Estate agent with wide community name recognition to be our civic leader. No offense to RE agents but in my opinion community is about more than property values and taxes and there’s an inherent concern about ethics and conflict of interest.

Any discussion about increasing pay of City Councillors will no doubt end up negatively. We hold politicians in such low esteem that it’s a forgone conclusion. However we must start to understand that we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to create an ongoing discussion about our community and to build community from the grassroots. If we want greater voter turnout, we must have this ongoing conversation.

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