What kind of a Mayor did you want? What kind of Mayor do you have? What kind of constituents does the Mayor have?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON February 24, 2012  It was, and still is, a very good idea.  It needed more time and after realizing that the quality of the submissions weren’t quite what he had in mind when he announced the event; Mayor Rick Goldring scaled back his Mayor’s Cabaret and announced a new date.

The event is a good one – it represents the first foray for this Mayor into sponsoring an event that becomes his legacy for the city.   Everything the Mayor does is political and he is on duty 24×7.  He gets calls to do the darndest things and show up at the most unusual places.  They range from cutting a ribbon at a barbershop opening to taking part in the handover of a cheque to a community group.

Every Mayor has to determine what kind of Mayor he or she wants to be.  Goldring needed his first year to get a feel for the office and to figure out how city hall really worked and then to pull together the team he needed to do his job and then settle into a pattern of relationships with his fellow Council members.

Mayor Goldring gets asked to attend all kinds of retail store openings - and he tends to attend. He also gets asked to take part in cheque presentations and when it is for a community group that is helping the disadvantaged - the Mayor attends willingly and hangs around for a lot longer than most do for the run of the mill photo-opportunity. Here the Mayor takes part in the presentation of a cheque for the Camelot Community Centre.

Goldring has done that rather well.  But the being a public Mayor is still a work in progress.  Should a couple of guys who have opened up a muffler shop with the money they got back from beer bottles that were returned to the Beer Store have the Mayor on hand to cut the ribbon for their official opening?  I mean, who really cares?

Is the Mayor supposed to be at the beck and call of anyone that has his phone number?  This Mayor does want to hear from people and he is a good listener.  For every politician the next election starts the day after the ballots for the last one are counted.

The Mayor is the voice of the community.  Should there be a community emergency – he is the guy who goes into a Command Centre at City Hall with the Fire Chief and runs the show.

Hamilton’s Mayor goes to public events and wears the chair of office – Goldring has yet to do that; he’s not that much of a showman and tends to be more low key.  However, he does get challenged with when to say no to a request that he appear.  Say no to a potential voter?  Not easily.

Mayor Goldring on the left and Joanne Taylor on the right with a student at the Camelot Centre. Goldring spent close to half an hour talking to the students and having a piece of cake with them; it was more than a photo opportunity. The Chief Magistrate performing at a high public level.

What is the balance to being the Chief Magistrate and at the same time being a politician running for office?  What kind of a Mayor does Burlington want?  How does Mayor Goldring hear what the public wants in terms of what the Mayor does and shouldn’t do?  It is a tricky business trying to be all things to all people.

Early in his mandate Goldring found himself surprised and a little non-plussed when people approached him in the super market aisles and wanted to shake his hand.  He was at times taken aback when people thought it was a big deal for the Mayor to show up at an event.

It took him awhile to get used to the change in his status and there were times when he dropped the ball – literally at the tossing of the first ball at a Burlington Twins opening season game.

Being a politician means being in the public eye – all the time – which plays total havoc on personal and family life.  The seven people who serve as Council members are out almost every evening, every weekend and whenever someone has something that is important to them.

Most politicians certainly go for the photo opportunity.  Some members of your Council head for the television cameras like moths to a flame.  All that media attention tends to warp a personality and as a result you get the kind of civic leadership you want because you put them in office..

What do you want your Council member to do for you?  Listen to you of course, but what happens on those occasions when the Council members want to hear from you and you don’t show up?

The bulk of the Council members wanted public input from the community and five of the seven held events in their wards inviting people to attend a short workshop where they got a chance to talk about some of the specifics in the budget ad to talk about the trade-offs they would like to see.  City Hall staff went to considerable effort to make the events interesting.

But the turnout was – well it wasn’t great.  Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven didn’t hold a public event nor did Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward.  Both directed their constituents to the event the city held.  Councillor Taylor put on an event.  No one showed up.  Councillor Dennison held an event and 14 people showed up.  Councillor Sharman held an event – five people showed up.  Councillor Lancaster held an event ran two advertisements in a newspaper and distributed flyers and not a single person showed up.

Councillor mentioned at his event that there was a time when 45+ people attended his budget information sessions.  What has changed?

The seven members of Council are both civic minded people who are in the business of serving the public and getting re-elected.  And if you don’t think losing an election hurts both emotionally and financially – you’ve not been paying attention.

The seven people who serve you decide how much of your money is going to be spent on taxes and you can’t refuse to pay or take your business somewhere else.

Former Prime Minister John Turner recently told a television interviewer that “democracy doesn’t just happen”.  He got that right.




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