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AMO and council connectivity

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I try, whenever possible, to attend the annual AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) convention. In my term as councillor - six years now - I've only missed a couple of years because of personal/medical reasons.

AMO gives me an opportunity to expand my learning and my understanding as a politician. It generally has relevant workshops, discussions, demonstrations and a good trade show that all help me become a better representative.

Wednesday evening, I returned from the most recent AMO convention. This year I drove to the event - it was held in Ottawa - although I generally fly there and back. I drove with the Deputy Mayor, and this gave us several hours (without air conditioning in the hottest week this summer!) to discuss local politics, politicians, and issues. And in doing so it increased my respect for her and her stand on issues (and, I hope, her respect for me).

In previous terms, councillors discussed beforehand what provincial or federal ministers we wanted to meet with, and tried to spread out our attendance at workshops so we could collectively benefit from the wisdom and information being presented. And wherever possible, we got together (often with other local politicians) for social events like dinner, so we could strengthen our ties with our neighbours.

This term we have attended as individuals, not coordinating anything such as events, not coordinating meetings with upper-level politicians, seldom even meeting for social events (and even then only a few of us - three council members and one staff person). So the experience and benefit of AMO was mitigated by our lack of communication with one another. That's because of the lack of leadership. A good leader would have brought us together to reach for some collective goals and to coordinate our activities.

AMO offers a great benefit to both individual politicians and our collective group. But these can only be fully realized if we are a coherent group working towards common goals during the convention. We have to share what we learn, share the experiences, share the information, share the meetings. But this term we hardly share the time of day.

During the entire trip to Ottawa, I seldom saw the mayor, and even then only by happenstance at social events or in the hallways. There were no collective meetings, collective focus or collective goals. At no time did we meet as a group to discuss and coordinate our time at the convention.*

I attended - as the guest of the DM - the annual County of Simcoe dinner. I've attended as guest of the previous mayor in the past. Our current mayor doesn't attend county events, however. And his absence was noted and often commented upon. It's a clear sign of the disconnect between Collingwood and the county. Sure it's a social event, but the networking and connectivity are important for our relationships with the county and our colleagues. And socializing helps resolve differences.

In fact, most crucial county issues are not even raised at council - except by the Deputy Mayor - and council is never asked to comment on, let alone determine a collective stance, on major issues. The mayor votes his own way and his conscience at the county, but does not ask for council's comment or direction before doing so. So much for accountability and openness. The DM at least raises issues for council to discuss, otherwise we'd never hear of them.

This year, I met several local politicians who were preparing to collectively meet - with their mayor - federal or provincial ministers. Collingwood politicians went own way, as if we were all independent, not a cohesive body working for the greater good of our community. We collectively met with no one. That was also noted. Collingwood seems increasingly isolated in provincial - and likely federal - politics (the former not helped by the mysterious absence of our own MPP both at AMO and locally).

Our sole effort to meet collectively with other local politicians and a federal minister - over the port of entry (AOE15) status of the local airport - was unsuccessful because the minister was out of town (and I am not sure if any other local mayors or councils were even contacted about the proposed meeting as was requested by the airport board). The DM sent emails asking about other meetings with ministers, only to be told none were planned. None, at least, as a council.

What good was attending AMO in 2009? What benefits were garnered for Collingwood? AMO could be a very beneficial event for the town as well as the attendees. As it stands now, it's merely a benefit for some of the individuals who attend, and collectively a waste of time and money. Attendance may benefit us individually - it has certainly helped me understand some issues - but offered no collective gain. Until we have better leadership, it will probably remain a collective waste of time, even though it may be a personal benefit to those who attended.
* This is doubly frustrating because Councillor Sandberg is chair of AMO's OSUM (Ontario Small Urban Municipalities) caucus, but we do not get collectively involved in OSUM, nor is our council asked to comment on or determine a direction in OSUM issues. Councillor Sandberg votes on them as he sees best. In a similar vein, Councillor Jeffrey, who sits on the executive FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities), votes as she sees fit on national issues FCM raises. Here we have two representatives of important municipal advocacy bodies acting not as representatives of council but as individuals. Not that I suggest they would do anythng wrong, but is that appropriate? Shouldn't we have some direction for them to follow? Would a good leader not recognize the opportunities presented by our councillors' involvement and try to integrate them within council's activities and goals? Given that our mayor commented publicly that he would vote how he wished on the NVCA, ignoring the direction of council, one needn't look far for the role model for cavalier behaviour on external boards.

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