The delegation was from an upscale part of town and the issue was a townhouse development planned for their neighborhood. The Councillor’s tweets, apparently sent while the delegation was speaking, were:
“I am aghast. Embarrassed. Furious. #not impressed #this is not my Waterloo.”
“About to revisit my prairie girl roots, connect with Tommy Douglas and share some very honest and blunt thoughts about community.”
(The Councillor’s attempt at populist bonding seems a little weird, at best. Some quick Google searches show that she lives in a posh neighborhood with house prices comparable to the delegation's - and no townhouses. But that’s another issue.)
As someone who has made a number of delegations to local government, both at public Council meetings and in private, I know how difficult it is to provide input when you know the government official has already made up their mind. But I’ve been lucky – I have never been in the position of arguing a case before an official who sneers at my arguments just because of who I am or where I come from.
I also know how difficult it is to participate in local government. Despite calls for public involvement, transparency, and so on, Waterloo government appears to most of us as a cliquey group that is not very receptive to outsiders (even though the “outsiders” are local residents). City Council invites the public to participate on committees, but they renew membership every year and boot you off if they decide you’re too controversial. Councillors will let you tell them your concerns, but few of them (I exclude our current mayor) give the impression that their minds are at all open.
Now it seems that the situation is worse. This event – and the exoneration of the tweeter, and her declaration that she won’t change – paints a picture of City Hall as a place where councillors are playground bullies who will use their stature to publicly humiliate us if we have the temerity to say something they disagree with.
An editorial on the tweeting scandal argues that the problem is not what the Councillor said, but the fact that she tweeted during a meeting. I disagree. It was disrespectful of her to not at least hear them out, but her tweets expose her attitude - that she was never willing to give them a chance because "they're rich" - and I'm glad that's public. If it's not public, we can't deal with it.
Tweeting increases transparency, and that's a good thing. Transparency isn't easy - it can uncover some rotten stuff - and we need to look at addressing those issues. I also hope we can discourge this sort of political grandstanding.
What we need is an enhanced - or at least reaffirmed - code of conduct for city councillors that reinforces their obligation to treat the public in a respectful manner and truly engage them.