01/9/14

To err is human. And bureaucratic.


Roosevelt quoteErrare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum, et tertium non datur. To err is human; to persevere in error is diabolical; there is no third option.

Bit of a tough love phrase, that one. Most of us know this as the later paraphrase of Alexander Pope: to err is humane, to forgive divine. Yes, he wrote “humane” because that’s how they wrote “human” in the early 18th century. And he was making a statement about critics, not about religion. But you get the drift.*

Pope’s phrase is a staple in politics. To err is human, and governments are composed of people. In his speech to the Democratic National Convention, in 1936, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, said those words in the image above:

Governments can err, presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted on different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

That’s worth repeating: Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

Clearly others agreed, because Roosevelt was re-elected by a landslide that year. What impresses me is Roosevelt’s insistence that it is better to have a government that sometimes errs, yet cares for its constituents, than a government that doesn’t make the effort because it fears those mistakes. Or makes its decisions based on frozen ideology, rather than situational ethics, rather than looking for the greater good outside the myopic view.

Of course, we all err; we all have the benefit of hindsight that tells us what we might have done better, what we might have improved, which fork in the road would have been the better – not just the shortest or fastest – route. As Billy Wilder quipped, hindsight is always 20-20. We see the past better than the future.

In response to those armchair quarterbacks who were quick to point out the better way he might have followed, Roosevelt might have paraphrased John 8: “Let any one of you who has never made a mistake be the first to throw a stone at the decision makers.”
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01/7/14

Looking back on three years


If you attended the Mayor’s Levee, Jan. 5, you received a small brochure that listed some of this council’s accomplishments to date, as well as our collective plans and priorities for the remaining year of our term. It’s worth reiterating some of those notes.

Keeping the public informed was identified by this council as a strategic priority in our first strategic planning session at the beginning of our term. This flyer was produced by our new Communications Officer as part of that ongoing transparency and accountability. We want to let you know what we’re doing on your behalf.

Many of the things municipal government deals with don’t get reported in media. In part that’s because they are seen as procedural, internal or part of an ongoing process, or sometimes simply as unimportant. But they are all important to you, our residents and ratepayers. You should know that your council is working for you in all areas and interests, not simply those that get headlines.

A lot of our decisions are based on long-term initiatives and goals, and often the public only sees the final stages, not the lengthy process that arrived at them.

I am reproducing some of the information in the brochure below, but a full report about the strategic planning session will be coming to council in the next two weeks, with this and more material included.

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01/5/14

Archiving past posts


Ming the mercilessI spent a busy weekend copying posts from my previous blog (hundreds of posts, currently archived on another server awaiting my resolution) onto my hard drive. I plan to resurrect some of these posts – maybe with a bit of updating or editing – in a WordPress archive site here so I can keep them alive in that digital manner the Net provides.

But first I have to sort through a lot of old material. A lot. And the corruption of the old database in the move to that server has created some technical issues I need to resolve, too.

It’s tough. I have seven years’ worth of older content to resolve, sort through, edit and re-post. And maybe discard. What is relevant, what can be replayed, what should be saved, what is best forgotten? What matters, what is mere digital detritus? As the author, my first reaction is that they all matter. But the editor in me says “pick and choose” because what matters to me may likely not matter to anyone else.

(Of course the point of blogging is self-fulfillment…)

I have some personal and subjective judgments to make. I was fairly prolific those years, although a lot of the content is about local politics in my second term. There’s a lot of stuff there, and the topic range is large, although I seemed to be less wordy in many past posts than I am here. I’d write a shorter post, if I had the time… (“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”… see a long story on short letters).

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12/16/13

Council’s second strategic planning session


Although there were no media reporters present to cover it, Collingwood Council held its second strategic planning session this term, on December 4. This was an important, all-day session for council because it set priorities for 2014, the last year this term. We also collectively agreed upon a list of our many accomplishments this term.

Based on the goals set in our first strategic planning session, we have accomplished almost everything we set out to do back then, as well as many other things that arose since that session.

The meeting was a formal council meeting and open to the public. It was held in the conference room of our new fire hall and involved all senior staff.

Here is the media release that went out last week about the results from our discussions:
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11/26/13

Six Rules for Politicians Using Social Media



This is an updated version of the talk I presented at the the eighth annual Municipal Communication Conference in Toronto, November 2013.

 

I use social media regularly and frequently. As a politician, that makes me either very brave or very stupid. But I’ve been doing this for the last 30 years, long before I ever got elected. Social media isn’t new to me.*

It may be slicker than it was in 1983, but it’s essentially the same text-based, monologue, just with chrome added. In fact, the tone of the conversation seems to have gone downhill since the 80s.

Back then it was mostly computer geeks like, so we were more of a community. Geek-to- geek wasn’t so adversarial, unless of course, you were arguing the relative merits of the Z80 versus the 6502 processor.

Today people debate about such important issues as Kim Kardashian’s cat, the name of a royal baby, or the recent favourite, Millie Cyrus’s backside.**

Today’s great technological advancement seems to be the consummate ease by which you can attach pictures of kittens or puppies to your posts.

Technology has improved our ability to share those photos with thousands, even millions of people. But it hasn’t made us better communicators.

Some technology actually rewards illiteracy. Twitter. For example, encourages us to cram our language into abbreviations and codes. It turns language into hieroglyphics.

Sure it can help social change. But how much is debated. Everyone points to how the Arab Spring was abetted by Twitter and Facebook. But I suspect a lot of the Arab Spring tweets went like this: “We’re overthrowing the government today. What are you wearing?”

Anthony WeinerSo when anyone in politics or municipal government asks me how to approach social media, I tell them two words:

Anthony Weiner.

I tell them there are six lessons you can learn from Anthony Weiner about social media.

Everyone knows who he is, of course. Weiner single handedly turned sexting from a minor act done by over-heated teens, to front page headline activity.The media were full of the stories about how this US congressman tweeted pictures of his underwear-clad crotch to young women around the country.

It was monumentally stupid and puerile. Weiner had to resign from Congress over the scandal. It hurt his career. And maybe his marriage. But on the grand scheme of things, it was harmless. He wasn’t Edward Snowden or Juilan Assange after all.

It really wasn’t anything more than a lack of good judgment or common sense. We’re all guilty of that. We all screw up now and then. That’s just human nature.

But Weiner was a politician. And politicians get held to a higher standard than, say, your neighbour or your cousin. If they did it, you’d probably just shrug it off. But when a politician or a civil servant is involved, the sky is falling.

At least that’s what the media tells us.

When I was in newspapers, media were the sole gatekeepers of information. We controlled how the public received it. Everyone looked to us. We had standards about what we published, and we were respected for them.

Today, there are tens of thousands of accessible sources online. Traditional media scrambles for your attention. In order to compete with Miley Cyrus or Kim Kardashian, they sensationalize just about everything.

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10/31/13

Random Acts of Kindness


Random Acts of KindnessIt goes by almost unrecognized, but for some, it is a special day that reflects the way we should all behave, to everyone, every day. It’s called Random Acts of Kindness Day, and it will be celebrated in Collingwood, on Friday, November 1. Council has contributed by making downtown parking free all day, as we have the previous two years.

You’re welcome. I wish we could do more. I hope the community participates enthusiastically. Even small gestures can mean a lot.

It’s an odd day, that, while celebrated in many countries, isn’t always observed on the same day everywhere or with the same level of organization. Wikipedia tell us RAK day began in New Zealand, in 2005:

RAK day began in New Zealand, at a national level, in 2005, organized by by Josh de Jong, Marshall Gray, Megan Singleton and Reuben Gwyn. It is still celebrated nationally in New Zealand, on September 1:

Sunday September 1st is New Zealand’s Random Acts of Kindness Day. And to celebrate our 9 years (yes, 9 whole years where NZ has been the only country in the world to celebrate a national RAK Day!) we are launching this fancy new website.

On here you’ll find tons of ideas to get you started, a bit about why on earth we started this day in NZ, and some downloadable resources to print out little ‘You’ve been RAK’d’ cards and give them out with your own random act.

Some communities get very involved with the day and promote it widely. In Kitchener Waterloo, for example, it’s a big event that began with a volunteer effort back in 2008:

Step back to early 2008. At a strategic planning meeting for board and staff, a board member suggested that The Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation (KWCF) help create empathy in our community. This suggestion contributed to the overall vision and strategy for The KWCF in its planning for upcoming years.

A few short months later, a volunteer of The KWCF brought the idea of Random Act of Kindness Day® forward to Rosemary Smith, CEO. The volunteer experienced an epiphany when, out of the blue one day, she had rushed to a meeting in downtown Kitchener. As she got out of her car to pay for parking, she was approached by a stranger. This stranger offered her a full day parking pass. Apparently his meeting had been cancelled and he didn’t think the parking pass should go to waste. The KWCF volunteer took the parking pass thankfully. Later, when her meeting was over, the volunteer vowed that she would return the ‘random act of kindness’ to someone else.

Reflecting on the incident, the volunteer felt good about what she had done. However, it wasn’t until a week or two later when she watched the movie ‘Pay it Forward’ that the volunteer had her ‘aha’ moment. She thought about how she had ‘paid it forward’ with the parking pass and how good she felt afterwards. She wondered if she could help others feel the same way by creating a celebration of kindness in her community.

In England, a group calling itself “The Kindness Offensive” organizes,

…large scale random acts of kindness for unsuspecting members of the public. The stated purpose of The Kindness Offensive is to ‘Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty’

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