‘Fixing Sarnia,’ Part 2: Let’s start from the beginning and work from there

What's a city actually for? It comes down to the basics and layering on a sense of true community

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago, my column about “Fixing Sarnia” generated a fair amount of interest. But it also raised other questions, at least in my own mind.

Our community is a GREAT place to live, work and play.

I think it can be better, but we need to start from the basics. A clean piece of paper that spells out what it is we want to be—I would say “when we grow up” but I don’t want to put down kids who are still trying to figure things out; that comes with time.

For the rest of us, and I’m including here those who are considering putting their names forward as candidates in this fall’s municipal election, I think a “manifesto” of sorts, basically a path along which we would expect EVERYONE, Councillors and the Mayor alike, to adhere to, should they be elected.

Here’s my crack at such a list:

—Be kind to one another. This means treating one another with respect, with kindness (see my last column HERE)

—Stop for a moment and ask yourself “why am I doing this?” In other words, what’s the motivation? Is it to make Sarnia a better place (not for you, by the way) but for others, the people with whom you share the community. See the Golden Rule for further guidance if you need it (and we all need it).

—Pledge to recognize the validity of other people’s ideas. Try VERY HARD not to dismiss them out of hand, mostly if the ideas are not yours. Rather, think about the motivation the other person is bringing to the issue and strive to understand how this might, in fact, be worth pursuing. See Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits” book for further insight (this one is Habit Five).

—Be a leader. A big part of this is actually like someone others would like to follow. Are you well liked in our community? Really? Ask someone who might be more inclined to tell you the truth.

—Stop whining. Really. Decisions that are made by those who we ask to do something, following rules that are put in place to set a course of action, shouldn’t be disparaged or even criticized. If we don’t like the way things are going, we need principles (which I’m guessing there already are) and then follow them.

—Understand how government works. Elected officials are supposed to set DIRECTION, based on PRINCIPLES that we as a community want to follow.

And what are those principles? Consider these:

—Get value for what we are paying.

—Think long term. What will this look like in five years? Ten years? Will the decision we’re making today look like a good one for those who are around in a decade or more?

—Be flexible and innovate. One of the worst sentences I can imagine hearing someone say—in municipal government or elsewhere—is “because we’ve always done it that way.” The future is ours if we’re prepared to embrace it, not hide in a corner and wish it wasn’t coming.

—Think the best of each other. This might come pretty close to kindness but I think it’s a little different. When we respect one another and come at an issue with the intent to fully understand (back to that Stephen Covey habit) good things will happen.

A municipal government may be complex but it isn’t complicated.

Keep people safe (police), put out fires when they occur and do what you can to stop them breaking out (fire), keep water flowing (water to us and taking sewage away), pick up garbage, keep the roadways in good shape (works department), and maintain other city assets (parks and arenas).

I may have missed something but I think you get my point: it’s not an endless list.

But it’s the people part that tends to get messy.

We have an opportunity this year to do something of a “reset” when it comes to the future of Sarnia. I hope we make a go of it. We could very well have one of the best governments ever if we put our minds to it.

How about it?

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