Put off joining
Your last edition presents something of a conundrum for local people. On the inside pages you have an item about the Herne Bay Pier Trust and its forthcoming members’ meeting, effectively encouraging people to join up. On your front page you carry a report of how some of those who do face public criticism, scorn and attack from the ever-strident Tory councillor Jean Law (“Storm brewing for Pier Trust“, HB Times May 6th). Hardly an incentive.
Some would say this is simply good, plain speaking on Ms Law’s part. Others would say it is the usual local Tory trait of trying to stamp on any criticism and silence it, and of slapping the faces of those who attempt to call Tory politicians to account.
High View Avenue, Herne Bay
HB Times letters 13th May 2010
Involvement mustn’t be dismissed as whingeing, and dialogue requires a reply to questions.
To declare an interest: I am a founder member of the Pier Trust. To declare another interest: I have a degree of empathy with Kim Hennelly (the “whinger”), having been bad-mouthed on the front page of the local press by local councillors within days of submitting the village green application.
I’m not happy with the Council’s high-handed and combative response to criticism, which is I think the result of complacency, arrogance and a forgetfulness of purpose. I’m not impressed with the public’s lack of involvement in local democracy, which has its roots in disenchantment with a Canterbury-centric Council, a lack of awareness of how to engage, and laziness (amongst many other things, like getting on with life).
None of the councillors was voted in by more than 50% of the electorate in their wards. The Council was chosen by a minority of the public, and it follows that the majority who didn’t choose them may disagree with, and even criticise, the Council. For the good of their blood pressure and mental health, every councillor should be able to deal with criticism – I expect there are courses available.
“Just answer the question!” was a phrase that popped into my head with monotonous regularity throughout the run-up to the recent general election. And earlier, in my dealings with the Council over the last year and more. So, a very simple rule of thumb for all councillors and Council officers to bear in mind (or have stencilled on every visible surface) is:
“A straight question deserves a straight answer.”
Following this simple rule will mean that the public will not feel we are being pushed away, fobbed off or disregarded. We will be more inclined to join in the dialogue between elected and electorate, leading to a robust, hands-on local democracy. Which is what everyone wants. Isn’t it?