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Put public first in filling vacant council seat

The resignation of Woolwich councillor Scott Hahn leaves the township looking to fill the vacancy. It’s not a commonplace situation here, so there’s been some scrambling involved. Eventually, council will have to decide on a format to put someone in the Ward 1 seat.

With a general election set for the fall, Woolwich’s likely route will be appointing someone to the position. The options will be discussed when council next meets on January 30. An appointment would involve interested residents submitting their names for consideration, rather than going with a runner-up from the 2014 election, for instance.

The new councillor would serve out the remainder of Hahn’s term, which runs through the end of the year.

This is a chance for someone to take an active role in municipal governance, to perhaps get a taste for the job with an eye towards running when Woolwich residents, and all other Ontarians, go to the polls on Oct. 22, 2018.

If you’ve ever thought about getting involved, or have any issues/complaints you’d like to address in looking to improve governance in the township, this could be your chance.

In that light, we’re calling on public-minded citizens to come forward – the pay’s not too great, the hours erratic, the public ungrateful and the media coverage scathing, but aside from that, it’s a great job and a way to both shape and serve the community where you live.

Municipal councils do have a great deal of influence over the quality of life in their communities. That’s especially true in the townships, where even small decisions can have a noticeable impact. Because that’s the case, it’s even more important to have community-minded people at the helm, those with the drive to enhance the quality of life here.

From our perspective, that requires candidates who are willing to act in the interests of the public. That seems self-evident, but in Woolwich particularly that’s far too often not the case. As with the bureaucrats to which councillors often defer, the elected officials conflate their interests with those of the citizenry. Co-opted into the bubble, they take on the mindset of the public sector employees whose interests are increasingly at odds with residents’ needs, particularly when it comes to spending priorities and keeping budgets under control. (The budget debates – perhaps too grandiose a word for the limited discussion that goes on – are well underway, so any new appointee would be out of the loop for this year.)

For the system to work properly, even municipal politics must be like the legal system: adversarial. When warranted, council members must be at odds with staff and even with each other, as debate makes for better representation. Unfortunately, such democratic and accountable action is in short supply.

With aging infrastructure putting mounting pressure on budgets at the same time as most Ontarians face rising costs, particularly for housing, and stagnating incomes, something’s got to give. That will require council decisions that put the public’s needs ahead of administrative and program spending that serves few if any residents. Properly engaged councillors will identify cuts and stick with doing what’s best for residents, bringing their own strength to an environment that will try to co-opt them.

Anyone interested in applying for the Ward 1 position would be wise to heed those points, rather than what might be coming from those inside the bubble.

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