City hall's cold shoulder

Plain Rhetoric
By Bill McQuarrie
September 11, 2018 - 5:00am
Image Credit: CFJC Today

LOOKING BACK at past columns and thinking about trends in the comments, messages and emails, I’ve noticed how a number of them seem to come down to issues of accountability and communications with city hall.

Just last week, I was again hearing from a reader who was repeating the familiar and frustrating scenario about not hearing back from the city when they write the mayor, councillors or city officials.

They, like others, tell me how they take the time to write detailed emails — often with pictures — about an issue that is important to them. An issue that troubles them and one they feel impact their lives in a negative way.

Be it potholes, sidewalks in Brock, nuisance properties, taxation or the soon to be hot topic of winter, snow removal, it’s important to them and they want to hear back from the city. People want their voices heard and the frustrations mount when they feel they are not being listened to.

I remember talking with a resident in Brock last fall about sidewalks. Unlike many streets in the neighbourhood, their street had brand spanking new sidewalks, so I was caught off guard when a local resident approached me with a complaint. It seems when the new sidewalks were put in, the elevation and slope meant rainwater and snowmelt drained towards instead of away from their garage and house. For the homeowner, it was a huge problem that in the end also became a very expensive problem.

He explained that he had reached out to the city a number of times and at a number of levels but found city hall unresponsive. Emails and phone calls went unanswered and the issue had remained unresolved.

This doesn’t seem to be an isolated case of selected indifference or being ignored in the hopes it will go away. Conversely, I don’t think it is representative of all interactions with city hall. But really, should it be happening at all?

It’s not about the classic confrontation that begins with, “I’m the taxpayer so you must do what I say.” It seems to me to be more about what is missing in these interactions and how easily things escalate as a result. I’m talking about courtesy, empathy and an honest willingness to work on solutions as opposed to the bureaucratic cold-shoulder and brush-off.

Out of all the years I’ve been here, I’ve only had one run-in with the city and it was this summer and at the staff level as opposed to management.

In my case, a city pickup was parked in front of our back gate, the driver was sitting in the vehicle and I politely asked if he could move a few feet so my wife could park and we could more easily unload the groceries. He refused, pointed out that I didn’t own the street, he and the city did and he wasn’t going to move an inch. He went on to explain that if I didn’t like it, I should call the mayor.

It wasn’t the end of the world but it did colour my day and my opinion of city workers. Had he moved his truck 3 or 4 feet, I’d be writing about what a great and understanding guy he was and how well city staff interacts with everyday citizens. But that wasn’t the case and the opportunity for a simple, easy and positive outcome was forever lost.

Over an average year I’m probably contacted or become aware of these issues upwards of 10 to 12 times. In the big picture of things, not much — unless of course you are the one having the problem. But I’ve always wondered how many more are being shut out and ignored by city hall that I don’t hear about?