LETTER: Ways for voters to hold their council to account

Your newly minted council has packed away the election signs, attended an orientation session on local government, and found their executive chair around the table.

There’s a sense of renewal in our community, never more so than after the transformative 2022 municipal election resulted in a rebooted local government. Many councillors, seven mayors and 16 CRD directors across the region are fresh faces, a substantial churn in elected representatives.

Their challenging task now is to spend hundreds of millions of dollars wisely to deliver quality services for 425,000 residents of the south Island. The mandate is also to have mercy on taxpayers in an increasingly unaffordable region during an inflationary period.

So, how do we hold our elected representatives to account to ensure they’re fulfilling their responsibility and meeting our individual needs?

It’s a very difficult job running a municipality with ever-increasing demands, costs and complexity. In recent years there’s been instances of rude, even criminal behaviour – especially through social media – where residents have crossed the line. If your issue or beef is to be solved it simply must be approached dispassionately with as much civility as you can muster.

If you want to win your issue, build your argument. That includes collecting city hall documents, photos, media reports court documents and so on. A lot of conflicts are a result of incomplete information or misinformation.

Scraps with a council or city hall are best resolved in person over a coffee, and not over a phone or email. Many politicians in the region hold regular open houses to allow them to hear voters’ concerns. Follow it up with a letter recording the result – it’s a record of the conversation and how and when the issue will be resolved.

As a resident you have the right to address and appeal to council with your issue. It is fairly painless – you will have about five minutes – but again, bring your homework and documentation. You now have the issue on public record, which might interest the media.

If there’s no progress on your issue and you’ve reached a dead end, gather your homework and evidence and talk to a reporter. If you have a legitimate issue of interest to the public that’s newsworthy, they may bring it to light or even champion the issue. Do not underestimate writing to the editor, that letter section is one of the best-read parts of the newspaper and can be quite influential.

While abused by the public and the government, by and large, freedom of information legislation has improved the ability of the public to gain access to documents from local governments. It’s easily done and usually at little cost, but time-consuming and may come to nothing. Potentially, it is an option to help fight city hall.

You most certainly can hold your local representative to account, but it will take the right frame of mind, documentation, patience and civility. Or, probably it will just take a sit-down coffee with your mayor or councillor.

Stan Bartlett, vice-chair

Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria

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