In a recent interview with the Merrickville-Wolford Times, mayor David Nash talked about his belief in being accountable to residents, and the importance of community participation in deciding the future of the municipality.
David Nash: It’s so important to have all of the primary stakeholders in the communities involved in consultation through the recreation advisory committee, or the environment advisory committee, etc.. So, based on that, we should be sitting down and saying “okay, here is where we want to be and here is how we are going to get there”. And if we are going to have the kind of community we want, if we want a healthy viable community which we know is probably one of the most important things to residents, then we have to be talking to Dr.Paula Stewart and all the Health Unit staff, and identifying the facilities we have available here.
We have to be engaging our kids and getting them involved in these facilities, and getting them away from the TV’s, and getting some physical exercise. We have the prime opportunity for that. We have so much in the way of physical resources available to us. We have some of the prime hiking trails in the area, we have outdoor skating. We are looking at possibly working with the Lions Club and the recreational advisory committee to see if we can have some skating on the canal, and have a bonfire and light it up. We want to bring back all of those old time values to the village, and have a beach area: get our volleyball net down there. And these are things that residents recognize are important.
We have a very dedicated group of volunteers and the recreational advisory committee, as well as the environment committee. I think we’ve got some very strong committees in this term. One of the things that was also near and dear to my heart, and council has bought into that as well, is that we have a very strong economic development committee. It was sort of shelved over the past few years, strictly because we couldn’t get funding for it. And I think that, basically, what the feeling is now is that we can’t afford not to do it.
And we shouldn’t be looking at a budget line item: we should be doing more to research whatever funds are available for grants, and staying on top of that. But we have some research. For the study we just did through the ad hoc study group for the Strategic Plan, we had some very high level experts involved, volunteering their time to work with us to come up with a framework which we can take to Council to proceed with. We have met with the Economic Development group and they are quite anxious to get involved in that and run with it. We have sat down and listened to the Vision 20-20 group who are here in town. All of these people are going to be key players, because what it comes down to is that it is our community. And we have to listen to that, and that’s part of what I am all about. When I got involved in Council, my concerns were transparency, accountability, communication, and sustainability.
So what we have to do is to be asking people questions and providing a format for people to express their opinions. Rather than tell people: I want you to do this, it is much better if I say to them: this is what I am trying to achieve, what do you think is the best way to get there? You will get a lot further ahead because, ten to one, the people I am asking know more about it than I do if they are already doing it. And if they are part of the solution, and they are only too happy to take ownership of it, you end up with a well motivated crew. So we’re headed in that direction. What will be new too is that, in January, we will be having our first Public Meeting, and we will be sending out a survey as well. I want to know how the public feels about what we, as a Council, are doing. I don’t want to wait four years to have people say: well that guy was a real pain in the neck. Let’s kick him out and elect someone else. If we are not doing the job right, tell us so we can fix it.
So, what I want to do on an annual basis is to have a public meeting and let people tell us how we are doing, and if there is something else we should be doing. I want to open up those lines of communication. I want them to fill out a survey at the same time, to let us know how the staff are doing. Our excellent staff are committed to serving the public and look forward to any suggestions they may have to better serve them. I want to know are they phoning, are the calls answered promptly, are the people polite and courteous to them? Are they helpful, or are we putting up road blocks and things like that. It’s all about customer service, so rate our customer service and, if there is something wrong with it, tell us and we will fix it. All those things are important if we are going to have a healthy or a happy healthy community.
Those are things we are going to have to work on, so I think the Public Meeting will be one way of doing that. We won’t know until we’ve tried, and at least, if we have tried, we can say we tried. Another thing we already do is to have an open question period, and we have three of those at each Council meeting. At those times anybody attending the Council meeting can stand up and ask a question. Maybe they won’t be answered that night, but they will be answered within a month, if not at that meeting, then the one following it. And so it’s basically getting the information out to people.
We have also tried to show people how much we appreciate what they do. This year we have had our first volunteer appreciation barbeque, where we invited people and did hamburgers, hot dogs, and that’s just to say that we appreciate what you do. I would like to see that become an annual event, and I think that it’s important. Volunteers are the backbone of our communities and they don’t want money, they just want recognition; and just the fact that somebody takes time to say “thank you, we appreciate it”, is all it takes. And what we get back in return is phenomenal. So I can’t overemphasis that enough: we are lucky we have got a community that is only too eager to step up and volunteer and to do things. It is also a community with a big heart and, with families suffering, the fundraisers are just incredible in this community. So I think we are heading in the right direction.