accountability two-way mirror

Can there be positive change without citizen accountability?

There was a lot of talk during this election about transparency and accountability. I fully and completely agree that they are essential for healthy community decision-making. What often gets skipped, however, is the question of who’s decisions should be transparent and who should be accountable?

The obvious answer is that elected representatives must allow citizens to walk with them through the decision-making process. And they must explain and defend their opinions then accept responsibility for their decisions. But what about citizens?

Should elected representatives be the only ones who have to explain how they arrived at their opinion or why they believe something to be true?

It seems there is a sentiment that, like the customer service refrain, the citizen is always right. It doesn’t take much thought to see how badly flawed that expectation is. But many White Rock residents (and candidates) chose to throw rocks during this campaign, then run away from having to explain themselves. The attitude was as if to say, “I’m a voter, therefore I am right.”

The problem with this is that there were many misconceptions and incorrect information being spoken of as if it were true. When I would ask people to tell me how they arrived that their assumptions, they often become indignant or offended that I would dare question their perceptions. It seemed the expectation was that, as a public servant, I am to follow instruction without question, and accept that what a citizen says is true, I am to believe is true.

Of course, this is ridiculous. Councillors are provided access to huge volumes of information. One who is at least remotely engaged will quickly gain knowledge that most people would never acquire. Councillors hear from people with whom they would probably not have the opportunity to spend time in their normal lives — from different social circles, different professions, different experiences. Though some would wish it to be so, the reality is, “the public” does not speak with one voice. It should not be any surprise that, with the unique set of knowledge they acquire, a councillor’s opinions will sometimes end up being much different than the majority of public opinion.

What I found interesting is how different councillors dealt with this challenge. Some would ignore the information they’d acquired and follow instruction from what they perceived to be the majority of public opinion (political self-preservation). Some others would talk about how to help citizens also learn new information and consider new perspectives. Unfortunately, I discovered that, because of this a pervasive belief that elected people are to follow instruction, attempts to have an open dialogue are perceived as talk back, and thus, offensive.

It is a tragic flaw in our brand of democracy. It means we are not learning as a community; we are self-defeating in our decision-making systems; we are doomed in a closed loop of expecting certain problems to be solved without the discomfort of trying anything sufficiently new as to actually solve the problem; and it’s always the politicians fault.

During this election, a great many people in this community presented their assumptions as fact, refused to explain how they arrived at their judgements, and defended them only by purporting to be the voice of “the public” — everyone they know agrees with them, so obviously they are correct.

Change that builds positive relationships and strengthens community spirit will only happen through open (non-defensive) dialogue. Truly open dialogue can only happen in an atmosphere of trust. Trust can only be fostered in absence of blame and resentment. Unfortunately, the results of this election tell me that this community is not interested in open dialogue, not interested questioning their own assumptions, not interested in letting go of the comforts of cynicism.

Without citizens accepting that they too should be accountable for their assumptions and judgements, there will be no solution, there will be no “positive renewal.”

2 Responses to “accountability two-way mirror”

  1. Lisa Says:

    Visit Lisa

    ask anyone in customer service – the customer is not always right-sometimes they’re drunk, on drugs, trying to rip you off, right, wrong, or just simply insane. Outdated corporate polices dictate polite treatment and assumption of innocence – or if its just cheaper to agree and make them go away. 99% of customers are honest.

    It’s intimidating to carry on a conversation with a councillor. It’s a big responsibility to carry on a conversation with a councillor. I know from experience. As a kid, I wouldn’t even talk at the dinner table when an MLA, MP, Mayor or Councillor was present.
    As an adult, I know that if I piss you off – I run the risk of never being able to bring anything before council for consideration, I run the risk of being permanently blackballed from any and all involvement in anything to do with this community.

    If you think this observation is a joke – start asking around – determine for yourself, perceptions. You have an opportunity to learn, now that you are not a councillor anymore, the level of communication people are comfortable with in relation to job title and perceived power.

    64% of the voting population couldn’t even be bothered to show up and vote – they don’t care – they didn’t think there was a single candidate who matched their visions for the future of white rock – they do not feel like they are part of the community, they have no interest in the community.

    So bashing the 36% of the voting population for participating seems somehow wrong (even though you are correct in your views that a percentage of the voting public which did vote, voted out of falsely planted fears of tall building marching down johnston Pink Floyd the Wall style) when you could be asking the 64% why they didn’t vote? Why they didn’t concern themselves with the community with which they live in? Why freedom and democracy have no importance in their lives? What the hell they think my grandfather and great grandfather risked their lives for in WW1 and WW2?

  2. Lisa Says:

    Visit Lisa

    thanks for the conversation threads for the last year on local civics through your observational journal. this type of forum doesn’t exist else where in White Rock-with the added caveat that a conversation about this community which is not attached to any type of organization with an agenda, open to exploring all sides of any issue, open to information/education exchanges in a civil and polite communication style doesn’t exist. You taught me stuff, we don’t always agree on any subject, and I accepted your journals purpose request for honest feedback from residents. you got it-spelling mistakes and all.

    Would I get involved in the next 3 years with anything to do with civics in White Rock – highly doubtful. Why-at a public open house in september in council, 2 members of the CPR executive publicly stated at the microphone, that if you haven’t lived in white rock for as long as they have, your opinion doesn’t carry an equal value.

    5 members of the new council answer to the CPR. Those of us who have not lived long enough to have lived in white rock for the same period of time as the CPR executive are excluded from the conversation for the next 3 years. A very large proportion of construction projects in BC which have not broken ground yet are in a hold pattern – tall buildings marching down Johnston is not a reality in this economic pattern. I don’t have a problem with smart inclusive community design because I took the time to educate myself on what the growth pattern is for the next 35 years in BC, what urban design is about, and thought about how this community could welcome others to experience this natural setting by the shore instead of finding ways to exclude others from becoming part of this community. will miss this forum though – it was nice.

Leave a Reply

If you want to use XHTML tags, these ones are allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>