Editorial Comment

When Credit Is Due


    One feature of life in a small town is the interesting dynamic that occurs with the administration and political leadership of the municipality, vis-a-vis their dealings with the public, who are also their friends and neighbours. It’s not like in a big city like Edmonton where the chance of the average person having a beer, or otherwise interacting socially, with the mayor, council, or the highest level of the local civil service is minute. In smaller towns, it is practically unavoidable.

    It seems this familiarity with the elected officials and administrative staff has a number of effects on the aforementioned dynamic. For some townsfolk, it makes them apathetic about local politics since they aren’t going to find fault with their friends and how they conduct the town’s affairs. The assumption is they will do a good job and trust their buddies to do the best they can with the resources at their disposal. After all, their kids were in the same classes together. As parents, they worked hard for the PTA, or Scouts or some service club. They wouldn’t think of risking a friendship to find fault with the local government.

    Then there are people for whom it seems the aforementioned familiarity makes them resent their civic leaders; even more than one might in a larger centre where the city council and the managers are practically invisible, except perhaps at a distance, behind a lectern giving a speech. For the Negative Nellies, their elected officials and public employees are people to be judged, vilified and gossiped about. Nothing civic officials do is ever good enough and all the political leaders are crooks, buffoons or worse, crooked buffoons. If the complaining class attend a town function it’s to ridicule and sneer, but that’s okay because they rarely show up, anyway.

    It is tough for small town leaders to escape their roles, even when off work. If they attend and event to enjoy it as regular folk would, people can’t leave them alone. Given the familiarity factor, many town folk feel it’s fair to bring up town business when the local leaders are trying to enjoy their off time.

    It’s no wonder some municipal leaders choose to distance themselves from townies and avoid socializing out of the public’s prying eyes. Of course, this strategy can result in the perception that they’re snobs and think they’re much too good for us regular people.

        From my perspective as a person who has spent nine years on town council, I know all too well how this strange dynamic with the public can be. It’s difficult on both elected officials and those they hire to manage town operations. It’s always good to remember, like any other group; they are just human beings with frailties and foibles just like the rest of us.

    I was thinking about how council and staff members are slagged no matter how good a job they do last Saturday night during our town’s Volunteer Appreciation Night. The Legion Hall had been carefully, tastefully decorated with linens and attractive centre-pieces on the tables. The town had hired the same excellent caterer my acting group gets for our dinner theatre productions. Even the entertainment, despite being a bit twangy for my taste, served up a polished, professional show which thoroughly entertained the volunteers who came out to be feted. I couldn’t understand why anyone would purposefully miss it, although many did, despite the impressive turnout.

    Kudos must go to the organizers, but also the elected officials who obviously understand the real value of our volunteer base in the community. They are the ones who approve the budget for the event and it is apparent, if money spent on the function is any measure, they believe in the worth of the initiative a great deal.

    Of course I share that belief. From my experiences, I know how much of a difference volunteers have on the enhanced livability of a community. The amount of tax dollars that would have to be raised to provide the same level of recreation and other diversions; sports, arts, and darts, for example, would break a community. Those places with no volunteers simply do without.

    Despite the excellence of the event, and the effort, creativity and planning that went into it, I still overheard complaints, which saddened me. Personally, I would like to recognize the town for a job well done. If you’re going to complain when they screw up, you better be prepared to compliment when they excel. And they excelled.

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