When I joined the team of people working with Deputy Mayor Mark Taylor in January I thought I had a good understanding of what the role would entail and how the City operates.
Boy, was I wrong.
It turns out there’s a lot more going on each and every day than meets the eye.
Despite having spent the last five years sporadically covering municipal issues for various local media I only had a surface understanding of the complex beast that is the City of Ottawa.
Having spent only seven weeks on the job I would say I still have only the very beginnings of an understanding.
I’d like to let you all in on some of what I’ve learned in the hopes that it helps you understand a bit more about what the City and your councillors can do for you.
1) The little things are the most important.
Small changes that would have completely escaped my notice are being done nearly every day in the offices of people on both Councillors’ Row and inside the bureaucratic arm of the City.
Some of the big wins our office celebrated over the past seven weeks would never make the news but they’ve been a big deal for the people benefiting from the changes.
For example, my colleague Patrick made sure the intersection of Woodroffe and Saville gained a five second pedestrian advance for people travelling east and west. This may not seem like a big deal but for the families using that crosswalk to get to work and to the Carlingwood Library this measure has made their commute much safer.
Another example involved a very small change. There has always been a by-law preventing people parking within 15 m of any stop sign but on Ahearn Drive in Belltown that wasn’t being enforced. That meant Para Transpo had to park in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, when picking up residents from a local group home. Thanks to a resident raising the concern, our office was able to have new signs approved for installation to remind drivers of the parking by-law, thus freeing up space for Para Transpo to pick up and drop off residents.
2) Communities can do powerful things when they work together.
I’ve had the pleasure of attending bonspiels, winter carnivals, a spaghetti social, breakfasts, community association meetings and other community gatherings where you get to see the power of community at work.
It might not seem like much but getting 50 people together to play outside in the middle of winter can mean a lot for a neighbourhood. People get to know one another. They learn names, family pets, and how to win a match of tug-of-war. They learn that their neighbours want many of the same things – most importantly a safe and friendly community.
Holding these events creates that environment and it’s pretty cool to see it at work.
4) Councillors and their teams spend most of their time working directly with residents.
I came to this office expecting I would spend most of my time developing our communications, social media and media relations. In fact, I’ve spent the majority of my time either in the community or working to resolve the concerns of people living in Bay Ward.
Councillors and their teams are able to answer people’s questions, direct their feedback to the right people on important City issues, connect them to resources, improve their access to services in Ottawa and, when it’s outside of our jurisdiction, pass the concern on to City staff.
Usually these are small things like arranging snow removal, directing people to existing by-laws or connecting people to the services they need. Sometimes, though, they’re big things. Things like making sure someone is never again left waiting in the cold because of an error with Para Transpo, or ensuring a resident living on a fixed income has access to warm winter clothing.
3) The things people need can be very different but are equally important to each of them.
I mentioned some of the range of the concerns we respond to in our office. Whether someone is calling about their living conditions or the removal of a tree that once housed the nest of a hairy woodpecker, each concern is taken seriously and dealt with quickly. It’s important that we show understanding that when someone takes the time to write or call about an issue it is of vital importance to his or her personal world.
4) The work never ends.
Every day there are more community events to attend, concerns to respond to, plans to make, strategies to plan and priorities to put in order. Each time you feel you’re ahead of the curve something new arrives on your plate. That is perhaps the best part. Each day presents new challenges.
It is also a reminder that working in the office of an elected official is impermanent. We act as stewards of the position. We are there to answer the needs of residents for the time we are in office. Those needs will continue long after we have moved on.
I’m sure there are many other lessons to learn as I grow into this new role – an exciting prospect!
Hopefully from reading this you have learned that our office is ready to help you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if there is ever anything that we can do.