Fear Of City Hall A Dangerous New Development In Abbotsford Politics

By February 25, 2013Hot Topic, Mike Archer

By Mike Archer. The Mayor and Council Performance Review performed and published by Sherril Guthrie of The Guthrie Consultants Group Inc. is a landmark document.

It is important for several reasons.

As Guthrie notes in her preamble, many people in Abbotsford subscribe to the notion that their only required or expected participation in the process of municipal politics is to show up every three years and vote, thereby passing judgment on the performance of those they elect to spend their money.

Those who participated were happy to be asked their opinion in the middle of council’s term and reportedly felt empowered by the process.

Our Institutions Are Behind The Times

Guthrie has stumbled onto a truism of our time. Our institutions have not kept up with the times since our electoral processes were created at a time when people traveled by horse and buggy. As a result, an awful lot of faith in elected representatives was required since one only got to meet or see them very occasionally – usually at election time.

In today’s world, the notion that people have to trust their politicians for three years is as outdated as the notion that people have to rely on the gatekeepers at the newspaper chains to tell them what is going on.

Not only does it take less than ten or 15 minutes for most people to drive down to City Hall and catch a council meeting, if even that is too demanding, the proceedings can be watched live on your computer from the comfort of your home.

Important And Useful Tool

Guthrie’s tool has tremendous value for all civic institutions as they become more and more distant and removed from a population which needs to feel more involved and empowered. The technology required in order to move to electronic referendum-style democracy has not yet been perfected to anywhere near the extent required for most people to have enough faith in it.

Nor, I suspect, will a large number of people be prepared to move to electronic democracy for some time to come, even with assurances from proponents that the results can be sufficiently secure from manipulation.

In the meantime, Guthrie’s model offers a halfway point between the two extremes which provides citizens and politicians with a snapshot of just how citizens, taxpayers and voters (don’t forget … those are not always the same people) feel about those who have been entrusted with the keys to the machine we call government.

More and more people are realizing that many in traditional media represent the interests of those in power and only bother to quote, interview or speak to the ‘authorized knowers’ from the government and business worlds in which they themselves play a big part.

As an aside which demonstrates the point – this week both chain-owned newspapers preferred to take the side of the Abbotsford Heat and the Calgary Flames in the coverage of the news story out of Utica, New York, written by a fellow journalist rather than trust someone in their own profession.

Even NBC Sports covered the story but our newspapers waited until they could run to the local owners and management before allowing their readers to hear about the news.

Both newspapers seem to believe that nothing is true until someone at City Hall or the Abbotsford Heat says it isn’t. It simply doesn’t seem to occur to them that journalists used to work for their readers … not for the powers that be.

Fear Of City Hall

In Guthrie’s report she mentions the reticence of a significant number of people to participate because they would have to attach their name to the survey. Despite assurances of confidentiality a number of people were afraid that if those at City Hall found out about their negative opinions they might, in some way suffer.

That this was a significant enough impression that Guthrie felt she had to include it in her research is, in and of itself, a very telling and dangerous aspect to politics, business and life in Abbotsford which has, to this writer’s knowledge, never before been reported.

We can only hope that, in their response to Guthrie’s research, the politicians and staff at City Hall consider carefully how their bosses – the citizens who own and pay for the community – feel about their performance and, in their public responses to the research, they should have something to say about the fear with which some people in the community approach the topic of commenting on municipal politics in Abbotsford.

From the report:

“Surprisingly, a significant number of residents and business owners were afraid to complete a performance review of Mayor and Council. As a few residents explained, “You’d get far more participants if people didn’t have to put their name on it.” One long-time resident stated, “Honestly, it terrifies me to fill one out.” Another confided, “There are just too many people connected to City Hall right now who have too much to lose.” And a cautious participant said, “I’d like to fill one out, but you have to assure me that it will remain strictly confidential.”

“In the opinion of this researcher, this type of political environment is undemocratic, unhealthy and it represents a form of control or bullying deemed unacceptable in our society.”

Why Haven’t The Newspapers Told You About Her Work?

One more thing – Sherril Guthrie, who has a reputation for her work as a researcher and who received plenty of media coverage for her Candidate Evaluation Guide prior to the 2011 municipal election, let all local media know what she was doing and has received no coverage whatsoever from the chain-owned newspapers during the data collection portion of her study.

She first told the media on January 5, 2013 about the launch of her project on January 9 and then followed up with press releases throughout the process about the locations at which she would be making hard copies available.

None of those press releases saw the light of day in the chain-owned newspapers nor did the project receive any coverage either in the form of news stories, columns or in any other fashion.

A more deliberate attempt to ignore an issue of importance to local citizens who care about democracy in their community is hard to imagine.

It will be interesting to see if the chain-owned papers tell any of their readers about the project now that the work is done, the results are published and, so many revealing and interesting insights into municipal politics in Abbotsford are available to citizens if they are interested.

Not to mention the fact that most of City Council received failing grades from those with the courage to fill out the survey.

We’ve asked for comments from all councillors and Mayor Banman. We’ll publish them as we receive them. Your comments are welcome as well. Please simply use the Comments box below, the Submissions box on the home page or email us at: editor@abbotsfordtoday.ca

To read the report click here

For background and more on the issue please click here.

Cover art – The Average Bureaucrat by Salvatore Dali

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