I spent the weekend going door to door, speaking with citizens about Hudson. One of the subjects that came up was the idea of civic behaviour. I had a good discussion about it and outlined some of my ideas. There are solutions to Hudson's seeming impasse. So I will recount what I said to a couple I know well who live on Main Road.
"I'm disgusted with the tone of the town's meetings." She said to me. "What can we do?"
This sentiment is echoed by many citizens, Peter Ratcliffe wrote about it in his blog. You can read Peter's take on it here.
Let me begin by saying that the current council have made some accomplishments. Those should be applauded. In the words of one of my former bosses:
"We may disagree passionately at times, but passionate debate is essential to this place. We may disagree but we must show each other respect at all times because the people(sic) elected us here...I believe that together we can restore civility to this place and that we can choose to focus on the values we share and the work we have to do." -Jack Layton
The citizen's assembly is an important part of democracy but when decorum breaks down it ends up serving no one. Mayor and councillors feel under attack and citizens don't feel listened to. No one wins.
What so often occurs is that citizens wait all month to talk about their interests. Council waits all month to pass the resolutions it deems important. Oftentimes the two aims clash and the situation devolves. The less decorum there is, the less interest from average citizen. This is true at all levels of governance.
What to do?
District citizens assemblies. Each district has an elected councillor. Between the monthly general assemblies these councillors should hold district meetings and thus have a good one-on-one with their councillor. In doing so, we augment the representation of our districts by our councillors and draw more people into civic life.
A councillor who meets with her district to discuss issues pre-empts those issues being brought up during general assemblies. If all six districts show an aversion to a policy then council-in-caucus should weigh well their decision. Likewise, the district assemblies offer the councillor an opportunity to clarify and elucidate municipal policy for citizens.
Civitas Res Publica-The social body of citizens and the state
The greatest mistake that could be made is to reduce the citizen's voice. The best solution is to be available and open. In order to proceed in this fashion, we must have a foundation of respect and decorum. I have experience in this area, during the 41st parliament we embarked on a civility project. The tone of parliament had descended into chaos with heckling becoming the norm. Canada's official opposition decided not to heckle and to listen when all members spoke.
District citizens assemblies and a code of decorum will go a long way towards improving our civic life and empowering the civic body once again. Many have lost their pride in our public assemblies. Its time to turn the page and look forward.