In the words of Paul Simon, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”
It didn’t take me long to learn all about perspective when I first joined city council.
I began to understand that while I and some of my constituents had a particular view on issues that faced the city, it may not be shared by others in the community.
When you first run for office, your perspective is limited to your own beliefs and, to some degree, the input from those with whom you associate.
There are those who fervently agree with you and help to create a platform you then take to the public while campaigning. You are truly committed to your positions and promise to do all you can to bring about the necessary changes you and your supporters feel are needed. A successful run indicates your positions on issues have resonated with enough members of the community to help get you elected.
Once in office, reality sinks in.
Each and every council member has their core group of like-minded supporters, but they soon realize that support doesn’t represent the whole community.
Your responsibility as a local government official is to work for the community as a whole. Every issue has its pros and cons and even these differ, depending on who is dealing with the issue.
Every member of the public has their own take on policy, vision, budgets, policing, etc., and each of them look to you to not only listen and consider their opinion, but in many cases to agree with them.
We live in a society of diverse cultures, beliefs, opinions, and expectations and they all look to us to make decisions on their behalf, just so long as those decisions mirror their view of the issue.
As a member of council, you are valued for your independent thinking and your ability to consider all aspects of issues that face your community, but you also have individual beliefs and biases that will affect how you deal with certain matters.
You may, for instance, feel strongly that your community should never be involved in the retail sales of cannabis and you likely have a reasonably strong following to support your position.
You may believe fiscal accountability translates into no new taxes or you may think it actually means taxing for the future. You may feel homelessness is not a local issue, but one that needs to be addressed by other levels of government, or that the opioid crisis is best dealt with through increased enforcement.
For every position a councillor takes, there are others who have an opposite point of view.
While we can allow our personal biases and beliefs to help us when making decisions on many issues, there is one area in which we are obligated by law to have an open mind.
Public hearings are forums where the public can come forward and voice their opinions on property use and zoning. Council is obligated to listen and consider all that is addressed by the public before entering into deliberations. Once the public has had the opportunity to fully voice their take on the issue at hand, then, and only then, can each member of council pass judgment on the matter.
Council is effectively put into a quasi-judicial position not unlike a judge.
Regardless of the criteria, in the end, each and every council member is put into the position of having to render a decision. With nine members on council, this can involve much debate as each member will have processed the received information according to their own interpretation.
Once in a while, council can be in full agreement on an item; at other times, debate can be quite involved and the end result will inevitably have some not agreeing with the outcome. To council’s credit, though, once a decision has been made, it has been made as a council and will then be defended by council moving forward.
The public may not be so forgiving, though. In many cases in which groups have either been for or against an initiative, policy, compliance issue, etc. and have had council vote contrary to their position, we will be viewed as not having listened to them.
Most people — understandably so — feel their perspective is the right perspective and should be the supported one. The issue is that council is faced with many perspectives and must ultimately choose from them to determine which best ensures the public interest is being addressed.
We cannot allow ourselves to be swayed by emotion, threats, vilification, etc., but must remain reasoned, rational and considerate when deliberating. So, while one person’s ceiling is indeed another person’s floor, we have been entrusted in ensuring care is taken of the whole building.