Community Assistant vs. Hands-on Alderman

In recent days twitter has been buzzing with the news that Craig Chandler will become newly elected alderman, Peter Demong’s community assistant. Demong beat out incumbent Linda Fox-Mellway in Ward 14. Community association members have been contacting their ward’s political community with questions about this role. @ShawnKao, who also ran for the Ward 14 chair, tweeted that he has been contacted by 3 highly involved individuals – all expressing concerns about Chandler’s involvement.

In no way, shape, or form is this an attempt to slam Chandler. Frankly I would be concerned if anyone was named as a community assistant this close out of the gate.

This story has got me thinking about the expectations one has on an alderman. Aside from the written job description, I believe that Calgarians expect a lot from their elected officials that are above and beyond what they may have signed up for.

I think it is expected that an alderman be aware of the happenings in their community but I truly believe that they must be entrenched in those happenings. Community meetings, gatherings and events are where relationships are built and issues are understood. I don’t want my alderman to be sitting in an ivory tower – I want them right next door. I want to borrow a cup of sugar from them and know that when I have a legitimate problem they will be there to listen. I want to know that when my community association is passionate about an issue (from garbage and recycling collection to snow removal to traffic standards) my alderman not only knows about that issue but can understand the history and emotion behind it. How on earth can you understand the passion behind particular community issues if you have sent someone else to attend a community meeting instead of being there in the flesh? Or if you have assigned someone to call and follow up with community leaders instead of forging personal relationships with them yourself?

Passion that is contained in each and every community in #yyc needs to be experienced in person to be appreciated and understood. Some aldermen do a fabulous job of this – they make their constituents feel valuable and understood. My fear is that this community assistant position will set a precedent for alderman to stay an arm’s length away from real community issues … when they should be on the front lines.

If an alderman is on the frontline of their community issues they will be able to properly represent their needs in #yyccc – and perhaps get away from playing party politics in a place where they don’t belong. Perhaps this attitude will help avoid split votes and start getting the things important to Calgarians done efficiently and effectively.

That’s my opinion. I’m a firm believer that my city representative must understand the needs of the community … not second hand … not from a friend … or from an employee. A city representative needs to be a part of the community to understand the community. I sincerely hope that Alderman Demong will still be an active part of Ward 14’s vibrant community associations. Growing up in Ward 14 (and now living in Ward 13) I know that these groups of people are passionate about the community and expect to be taking seriously. They deserve direct attention from their elected official and not his campaign manager. The message hiring Chandler sends is one that communicates a lack of respect for their dedication to the ward.

Calgary Aldermen – I want to hear from you. What makes you a good representative of your community? How do you ensure you are a part of the community? Respected by the community? And up to date on the needs of your neighbours? Let’s sit down and have a coffee (or beer) and chat. PCinYYC is itching to publish a piece on you and your community.

Keep being passionate Calgary! Keep engaging and keep calling, writing, tweeting and emailing your alderman if you have a question, concern or suggestion. We are the stewards of this city – and keeping it great starts with us … not them.

CR xo

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9 thoughts on “Community Assistant vs. Hands-on Alderman

  1. Having worked for various MLAs over the past few years both Ministers and government members as have you, we both understand how busy they can be balancing their work commitments, community involvement and a family life. Therefore I understand the need to have assistant OCCASIONALLY attend a meeting on their behalf as I have done in the past.

    However, appointing someone this early in the game (not even a month since the election) makes me uneasy as this is the time Alderman (especially new Alderman) should be connecting with their constituency associations and getting to know them on a personally level as they will be working together hand-in-hand for the next few years.

    Long story short I support someone representing an elected official at a meeting but not this early in the game, they need to be out in the community meeting THEIR constituents, the one who marked an X beside their names and the ones who didn’t

    Just my thoughts though.

    JT

    1. Hey Jen – Thanks for the comment.

      Not picking on Demong or Chandler at all – as I stated early on in my blog. Demong just happened to make the “news” because of his CA choice … and Ward 14 happens to be where I have the most experience with Aldermen, etc.

      Although Linda lost her seat she was very hands on in her community. She attended meetings personally, made the follow up calls, etc. Her assistants were stationed downtown and were not counted on to maintain relationships in the community – that was Linda’s job. I witnessed this firsthand, and also had conversations about it way before we knew Demong’s name.

      I’m simply pointing out that it isn’t in a new Alderman’s best interest to put so much emphasis on a CA so close out of the gate. They need to forge those relationships on their own so that they can fully understand the community.

      It’s a reasonable request – especially given the hardworking volunteers that put so much in to the communities … they deserve attention directly from their elected official … especially because they don’t know him yet.

      CR xo

  2. Nicely written. There is one other element to this too. Chandler was the pitbull that Demong let out of the cage during the recent election. He is a hardcore campaigner and I think “pitbull” is a description that Chandler would be proud of. However, during their campaign, he applied a full court press throughout Ward 14 which rubbed many various constituents and community association board members the wrong way. If you keep track on twitter, there is even an incident where Chandler threatened to sue someone.

    I realize the Aldermanic position is one where a community assistant could be required and used as an effective tool to build relationships with communities (although, as mentioned above, not the primary avenue for community association board members and constituents to contact the Alderman). However, if the Alderman is going to use a community assistant, should he being using someone who has made so many people within Ward 14 feel uncomfortable? This shows a potential lack of judgement and concern for your constituents and looks like favours are being repaid.

    1. Great point Chandmong Watcher!

      Chandler has rubbed Ward 14 community members the wrong way in the past – even long before this particular election. Choosing him may be a sign that Demong is out of touch with the passions, concerns and history in his Ward. He shouldn’t have to end up acting as a buffer between his own assistant and the people he represents.

      CR xo

  3. Pretty sad folks.

    I live in Ward 14 and i have dealt with Craig first hand and he was nothing but professional. Seems like sour grapes to me.

    1. Joel – could be sour grapes from some and good be legitmate concerns from others. It is an issue that Demong will have to assess and make a call on.

      I want the focus here to be about ALL aldermen making sure they take time to personally become invested in their community issues. My call to action in this blog is about asking any Alderman how they do that and how I can share it. Demong and the other 13 are more than welcome to contact me and I’d share his Ward 14 story.

      Thx for engaging with us!

      CR xo

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