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Jutta Mason: So what would you do on Dec.1 if you get to City Hall as councillor, and we call you and say – “the floor at MacGregor Park field house wasn’t properly painted, the paint is too thin, we need a few more coats of paint there”?
Ken Wood: My job as City Councillor would be to listen to residents' concerns on ANY isssue and facilitate resolution in any way possible. First step would be to contact senior management in Parks and Rec/Works to see how quickly it could be rectified. I believe that the bureaucracy at City Hall is there to advise on policy when asked and to implement when directed. If action is not taken within a reasonable timeframe (less than a week), I would try to escalate. Failing that, I would use any means necessary which would include taking money out of Councillor Office budget and paying to get it done, hopefully with help from the local community. If it went that far, there would have to be some serious followup as to why, but get the job done first.
JM: What if the federal government says next spring, we’re going to do another round of stimulus projects? Let’s say you’re offered new doors and windows at another field house that may have perfectly good doors and windows already, what would you say?
Ken Wood: My response would be to first verify that with the local community or a simple on site inspection myself. Then I would try to negotiate a similar cost improvement that would benefit the community, knowing that a win win is possible with media attention and appropriate credits to those that respond to real community needs. There is usually wiggle room, or even a trade for work in other communities outside the ward that would still benefit our ward.
JM: So the question is, as councillor would you say, “actually this project is too expensive, We don’t need this. Let’s trim this project down”. Would that be you?
Ken Wood: Failing that success above, I would NOT countenance spending taxpayer money on unnecessary improvements. City Councillors also have a fiduciary responsibility to be sensible with taxpayers' money, no matter where it comes from.
JM: How did you feel about the Lansdowne road narrowing?
Ken Wood: I was initially in favour of it, as I truly believed that it would reduce traffic congestion and smog and beautify the area. However, as soon as I spoke with neighbours and learned how zero consultation had been done and that it even involved removing disabled parking, I switched sides. Joe MacDonald's favourite phrase is something like "What do you do when confronted with facts that conflict with your decision? I change my mind". You may remember I was the guy who chained himself to a tree and stood up against City Hall - and won. (so did the tree). Now the narrowing is a fait accompli. It can still use some tweaking to make it more palatable and liveable for residents, but it is a done deal.
JM: The MacGregor Field House renovation is not the only problem with state-of-good-repair projects in Ward 18. Another example: it turns out we don’t have a budget line for fixing benches in any of the parks. As councillor, what can you do about that?
Ken Wood: I attended a debate in ward 19 next door where candidates were asked if they could only spend money on one thing, what would it be? I was heartened to hear most of them say Parks/Green Spaces. If there is no budget line for fixing park benches, I would first try to get one. Failing that - Councillor office budgets are still there to be used at the discretion of councillors for now. Although - I would rather see Councillor office budgets cut with money going into a netutral grants program administered by residents with a points system - or even a simple lottery - to get the most bang for the buck in the community. (I favour a points mechanism, decided by and for the community)
JM: What would be your steps to animate the community?
Ken Wood: Monthly town hall meetings (face to face) with constituents to coincide with the end of City Council monthly meetings so I can hear and elicit concerns to bring forward at the next City Council meeting. (I do not rule out the use of social technologies, but right now not everyone is on the net). I have promised to commit $20,000 of my first year Councillor salary to an initiative to reach constituents in their own most fluent language, as we are very diverse and I believe many are left out by being uninformed through no fault of their own. There are almost 200 languages in the city, yet the city only communicates - for instance - in only 22 during elections. We need to rise up to meet diversity. BIA's and resident groups help compile group concerns and are a valuable asset. We need a College Street BIA. The Councillor Nerwsletter has to be proactive in reaching everyone and letting people know what is happening BEFORE It happens, so people have tiime to make input into decisions that affect them.
JM: About community consultation – as soon as you have people talking to each other about what they want to see, there’s a possibility of strong disagreements arising. Public space is a place where small wars can start, in a park, for example between dog owners and non-dog-owners. People have lots of frustrations, and those can sometimes be channelled into neighbourhood public space. Or in Dufferin Grove, a few years ago, some of the neighbours began to say – this park is really getting way too busy. That’s not what we want. We want an area of peace and reflection. That’s a legitimate view of a park, but it’s problematic in a city. There are a lot of people who want somewhere outside to go, and if those many people find a particularly attractive spot, you no longer have a quiet place of reflection. At Dufferin Grove Park, some people felt that the little gardens, the ovens, the farmers’ market, the cob kitchen – all interrupted the lovely green vista of grass and trees that was formerly there. Those views can come out as loud disagreements at community meetings. As councillor, how would you address those kinds of disagreements?
Ken Wood: This sort of situation calls for PROFESSIONAL facilitators, where similarities between opposing views can be identified and differences respected. I would bring in people who are skilled in that regard to conduct meetings and keep them on track to identify practical solutions that everyone can live with. Most of those solutions will come from the community and can be an 'animating experience' that also addresses question 6. Compromise is usually what is required.
JM: About addressing local issues, here’s an example: what if somebody says, “we want better ice maintenance in the wintertime at Campbell Park, and we want to toast marshmallows at a rink-side campfire there every Saturday, and we want free access to the rink house if we want to have community gatherings, or meetings that pertain to the park or to the neighbourhood. We want to gradually move the rink house towards being a clubhouse. But that requires an upgrade in the wiring, so we can make coffee, and have better lighting.” This is a real example, it’s been requested for years, but it’s never available. So how would you then go about getting these things, how would you make it happen?
Ken Wood: First order of business would be to find out how widespread the desire is. Is it just one person's idea which gained lukewarm support? That needs to be ascertained. Often great endeavours start with one person's idea, so the Monthly Town Hall meetings I propose in question 6 would be the place to start the discussion. Once it has evolved past idea to group desire, we essentially have a Request For Proposal from the community. That needs to be taken to the planners and experts for advice and response, detailing cost, timing and so on. Bring that back to the community and another round. If it's simple, just do it. If it involves some kind of evolving into another public space offering, that takes more time and planning. In the end, planners and city workers are there to serve the community needs, as expressed by the community and articulated at City Hall by your elected representative.
JM: Anything you want to add?
Ken Wood: I see parks as the epitome of inclusiveness. They offer not only ancient remedies of the peace and reflection you mention earlier, but are a sanctuary for people trapped in the otherwise concrete urban environment. They are places of health, vitality, connection to nature - restorative to the spirit and calming oases. That said, they are not just to be enjoyed in solitary isolation, but also as we've seen with Dufferin Grove a place that brings people together. They are public assets to be treasured and kept in the public realm for the good of all.