Waters: Local government is politics where you have direct access

It wasn’t quite like the flashbacks some U.S. soldiers returning from Vietnam in the 1970s experienced. But it was close.

After years of not having to cover city council meetings on a regular basis, there I was back in the deserted confines of the public gallery in City Hall Monday as the minutia of city business was conducted before my very eyes.

For most people, the day-to-day workings of a municipality are, well, how can I say it without offending my friends at City Hall, less than exhilarating.

Watching and listening to deliberations on topics such as how the city should spend its advertising dollars to tell the public about events it legally has to tell them about—like public hearings—is a stretch even for a reporter who has to be there. And keep in mind, that particular decision directly affects me because I work at one of the two newspapers in town that may, or may not, eventually get that contract.

But references to watching paint dry aside, my return to that staple of Kelowna local government political life, the weekly council meeting, did hammer home the point once again that, as boring as they may appear to the uninitiated, municipal council meetings are important.

They are as grassroots as you can get in today’s world of personality politics. They are where the public’s business is done, in public.

In most cities and towns across B.C. what happens in these near-empty chambers is of vital importance to the well being of that community.

The decisions made by mayors and councillors keep the roads repaired, the sewers flowing and provide some sense of orderly development.

Councils, especially those where party politics are not practiced, may lack the political intrigue of their provincial and federal cousins but their importance should not be overlooked.

Your municipal politicians not only have the local buck stop with them, they are the most accessible political leaders in this country.

When was the last time you called your local MP or MLA at home? When was the last time you were allowed to directly address the provincial or federal government in the B.C. Legislature or the House of Commons? And when was the last time a street light was fixed because you brought it to the attention of your federal or provincially elected representative?

None of this is meant to denigrate the job that MPs and MLAs do. They just operate in a different political sphere. What they do is important. But so is the work, and the decisions, made by municipal elected officials.

Mayors and councillors matter. You might not like the individuals or the decisions they make. But the fact they are there to make those decisions does make a difference.

I learned a lot about that covering council here for 10 years. And yes, more often than not council meetings had a stronger soporific effect on me than a big turkey dinner.

But remember, that development approval council gives is important. After all, it could be for the property next door to yours.

Alistair Waters is the Capital News’ assistant editor.


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