Reputation, reputation, reputation

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Bad reputationReal estate agents and retaillers have a saying: Location, location, location. But for politicians that can be amended to read: Reputation, reputation, reputation. The reputation of the whole community hinges on that of its politicians. After all, the tree is known by its fruit.

Remember the Rob Ford scandals? Talk show hosts around the world used them to turn Toronto into a jokefest. People who had never visited, or never even heard of Toronto before knew about it through Rob Ford’s antics. And although it tarnished Toronto, Ford acted as if it didn’t matter. As Cicero wrote in On Obligations (De Officiis; also known as On Duties):

To disregard what the world thinks of us is not only arrogant but utterly shameless.

But centuries before Cicero, the Greek philosopher Isocrates wrote:

Guard yourself against accusations, even if they are false; for the multitude are ignorant of the truth and look only to reputation. In all things resolve to act as though the whole world would see what you do; for even if you conceal your deeds for the moment, later you will be found out. But most of all will you have the respect of men, if you are seen to avoid doing things which you would blame others for doing.

So this reputation thing is hardly new. We’ve long known that doing the right things builds it, doing the wrong things destroys it.  In Chapter 21 of The Prince, more than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote:

“Nothing makes a prince so well esteemed as undertaking great enterprises and setting a fine example”

He understood that reputation was precious, and that to build it, the ruler needed to set a good example. In Chapter 8, he criticized the ancient Sicilian leader, Agathocles – not for deceiving, then murdering, the citizens, but because his actions stained his reputation:

“It cannot be called skill to slay fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be without faith, without mercy, without moral obligation. Such methods may gain empire, but not glory… his barbarous cruelty and inhumanity… do not permit him to be celebrated among the most excellent men.”

Betrayal, lacking a moral compass, faithless, cruel… that sounds all too familiar in our local politics.

Machiavelli followed this up in The Discourses III, with:

“The prince who would maintain his credit in his princedom must do likewise; since nothing helps so much to make a prince esteemed as to give signal proofs of his worth, whether by words or by deeds which tend to promote the public good, and show him to be so magnanimous, generous, and just, that he may well pass into a proverb among his subjects.”

Words and deeds to promote the public good: they build reputation. You have to work at proving to the populace you are good. Which, of course, hasn’t been done here. Machiavelli also wisely noted in The Art of War, Book VI:

…above all, what keeps the Army united, is the reputation of its Captain, which only results from his virtue, for neither blood (birth) or authority attain it without virtue.

Name someone in The Block with a good reputation, one revered for morality and ethics. Respected for honesty. A role model for good political behaviour. A virtuous leader. Right: I couldn’t think of one either. But change those attributes to self-absorbed, vindictive, petty, tyrannical, controlling, arrogant, self-aggrandizing, venal, greedy… and a few names immediately spring to mind, don’t they?

Less than a century after Machiavelli, in his play Othello, William Shakespeare has his character Iago say,

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name,
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

But what if the thief is the owner of that reputation? What if it’s a self-inflicted wound? What if it’s deliberate?

A few years ago, Robert Greene wrote in his excellent book, The 48 Laws of Power, Rule 5:

“So much depends on reputation – guard it with your life. Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win. Once it slips, however, you are vulnerable.”

Since we have known from ancient times that the reputation of the municipality is reflective of that of its politicians, and that everything rests on having a good reputation, you have to wonder why Collingwood Council – and The Block in particular – would embrace its opposite. We have not a sterling reputation, but a bad one. A hideously bad one.

Frankly, no one loves or respects us. Our reputation sucks. Yet it’s a self-inflicted wound. We seem to have offended – and continue to offend -everyone and everything around us.

Our reputation with our municipal neighbours is abysmal. As it is with the people trying to develop the airport, with our municipal partner Powerstream, and with our own utility staff. We’ve driven some of our best people away and I’m told morale throughout the town staff is at rock bottom. Our reputation with the municipalities down the pipeline to whom we sell water, it is caustic. With some local developers it is brutally bad. Former utility board members illegally fired from their positions despise our town and its council.

Strong business relations create the reputation of a good place to do business, (a community’s best advertisement);
Municipal Economic Development Readiness Initiative Huron County

To be fair, Collingwood’s reputation started to go down the tubes when The Block’s friends filed a bogus, politically-motivated complaint to the OPP last term, intended to discredit the former council and catapult some of them into office at the next election. It worked, for some. But in the process it stained Collingwood’s reputation.

Since then, rather than working to repair the damage, The Block has aggressively worked at making it worse. It boggles the mind at how effective they’ve been. Their actions, combined with a strong stench of entitlement, have made this town both despised and a laughingstock. In 20 months, there has not been a single action taken to promote the public good. Not one.

There have been many, many examples of actions taken to further private agendas and personal vendettas or to feather their own nests. And they’re still ongoing. But nothing to benefit the community at large. And every day our reputation sinks a little lower because it is being towed towards the bottom by the sinking reputation of our politicians.

And yet, The Block,like Rob Ford did in Toronto, disregard the effect they are having on our municipal relationships and reputation. They have established themselves as the worst local council in living memory. Why?

You can’t simply claim they’re not up to the task or they are all still trying to figure out how an agenda works before they start doing something for us. As François de La Rochefoucauld wrote in his Moral Maxims (No. 162):

“The art of using moderate abilities to advantage wins praise, and often acquires more reputation than actual brilliancy.”

So even a little effort to do good would help. Just a teensy bit. A gesture. But we’ve seen none.

Maybe it’s the company they keep. People are known by the people they associate with. As Bishop Stephen Gardiner wrote in 1555:

“Men can acquire reputation with the multitude of the company of wise men who have good habits, for there can be no better measure of a man than the company he keeps; and therefore one who keeps the company of the wise acquires a name for wisdom, and one who keeps the company of the virtuous is thought to be good, since it is impossible that he should not bear some resemblance to his companions.”

So who do The Block associate with? Aside from themselves in secret meetings, that is. Rabid mouthpieces who speak for them in the media, members of the disreputable former VOTE (Voters Opposed to Everything) group. Bitter former Central Park committee members. Discredited former politicians.

Anyone wise, good, charitable, selfless among them? Any role models? Anyone you can look up to? Respect? Admire? I didn’t think so. But lots of bitterness, envy and anger.

I don’t get it. I really don’t. This council has had 20 months to achieve something positive and they’ve not even planned to begin to contemplate the possibility of doing something for the greater good. But they have proven very accomplished in tarnishing our reputation. I suppose that’s their legacy and they’re proud of it.

Collingwood deserves better.

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