Who Gets Involved in Local Government Decision-Making?
Over the past few months, I’ve had the chance to work closely with people who are heavily involved in the governance focus of local government, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with those who aren’t completely sure what the role of local government is. The gulf between the two is both fascinating and troubling.
Working with elected officials and senior managers on things like orientations for new councils, or strategic planning, or my current favourite, being the keynote speaker at a series of conferences, has illustrated the passion and knowledge that some people bring to bear in making their communities ever better.
These people think and act in the long-term, about how their kids or grandkids would want to live in town, and what this particular council can do to help make that happen. While some of these people think in terms of getting potholes fixed, or cutting the ribbons on new businesses, most can effect their desire to create a better community for everyone by ensuring the pillars of great governance are in place and by affirming that they are working in their respective roles of governance or management. While there are some people who have a passion for a single problem or issue, most can see the forest rather than just their own tree. The sense of community and well-being benefits from the work and energy of these people.
Contrast this with conversations that happen in some types of public engagement, a process in which Council wants to hear directly from the people they represent as a way to provide colour to the issue and get information that will help Council make the best decision with the greatest amount of relevant information possible.
These engagements are sometimes a mandatory part of decision making, and sometimes they illustrate how a local council is being transparent with the people in town. Regardless of the reason for holding them, there is good information to be gleaned and imparted.
In my experience, the people who attend events like this fall into two categories. The first is people who are knowledgeable about local government and want to contribute to the benefit of their community in some fashion. These people might be knowledgeable citizens, former elected officials, or people who hope to take on that mantle one day, or they are the people who we kindly refer to as local government ‘junkies’, one of whom is probably me.
The second group are people who don’t know much about local government, about division of powers, legislative paramountcy, or how Acts, bylaws, and policies work. These are the people who have a concern about their community and want to express it, and thereby have an impact on the decision’s outcome. Most of these people have a passion for their hometown and merely want to express that passion in a questioning and constructive way. These people may ask questions that don’t really pertain to what local government can control, but they do so earnestly and with good will.
I spoke about two groups. Upon reflection, I think there is a third group too, and it’s increasing in number and impact. We have encountered people who have assured us that their Council is making backroom secret deals with the United Nations or the World Economic Forum. They’re sure that government is trying to take away or control private land. This perspective, often pushed by groups on Facebook, the MAGA crowd, Q’Anon, and others, are insidious and pervasive, and their lens can apply to any situation. This group frustrates me because they are as loud and confident as they are unhelpful. My hope is that they move on to some other massive conspiracy soon and leave us in local government to do the best we can.
Every community in this country and beyond is really a group of smaller communities of interest, all living and operating in the same geographical areas. This variety creates uniqueness and adds spice to the life of everyone in town. Thank goodness each local government and each community is different, and thank goodness that most people want to contribute in constructive ways.
If you’re an elected official, an administrator, or just someone who believes in their community who is reading this post, what do you see in your own municipality in terms of those people who choose to engage with the local government?
As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.