Monday, April 22, 2024
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The actual value of criticism really depends on its variety

I would love a dollar for every person who has asked me if I ever get sick of listening to people who have a gripe with “my” Council.

It’s a loaded question, of course, because while on the face of it a simple “yes” or “no” would suffice, the true answer is a lot more complicated than that.

In my experience in local government, which now runs to more than 13 years ,criticism can generally be divided into one of two categories – constructive and destructive.

Constructive criticism is that which has a point, and happily it is a lot more prevalent than the other kind. It generally comes from people who are keen to enhance both their own lives and those of the wider community, and often it can lead to positive outcomes.

At the very least, it creates discussion with both sides of the debate willing to listen and to learn from the other. Yes, the ego may still take a bit of a battering when final decisions are made but whatever those decisions are, they are generally easier to swallow when you know your opinion has been part of the process.

To be brutally frank, destructive criticism generally comes from those who actually enjoy being negative. These folk will pick holes in anything and you don’t need to be an expert in body language to see them coming from two to three blocks away. Their demeanour gives them away every time.

Unfortunately for these folk, it is hard to take them too seriously which means that on the odd occasion when they have a fair argument to make they are very much in danger of not getting the attention they deserve.

Having said all that, it is pleasing to note that the vast majority of submissions the Council received in its recent annual plan consultation process would very definitely fall in the “constructive criticism” category.

Sure, there were some which spelt out very clearly they were keen to see the Council reduce the rates increase to below the proposed 7.9 per cent but even most of them seemed to agree that would not be easy, at least not without reducing the services our community currently receives.

If the submissions are anything to go by, it does appear most of our people at least understand that those who stand for council do not do so with the specific purpose of making life difficult for those they represent.

That might seem a strange thing to say but it has always frustrated me that there are a few whose comments, invariably on social media, leave the impression that this is exactly the case.

Of course, nothing is further from the truth. Those who stand for council do so because they are community-minded people who want to see their district, and the people within it, prosper. Obviously they won’t always agree with each other as they debate the various issues, but that common goal remains.

Another myth is that councillors are no more than puppets whose strings are pulled by council staff.

As I have said so often to people who have expressed that view, on all matters which come under the governance label staff make recommendations, councillors make decisions.

And just because stats might show that most staff recommendations are accepted in full, or with minor tweaks, that is because they are well researched and articulated, not because councillors are either too timid or lazy to deny them or make wholesale changes.

This column is not intended to have you, the reader, “go soft” on the Council. Public scrutiny is extremely important and it is the very best way to keep your elected representatives accountable.

By being constructive in your approach, each side of any debate benefits. That’s the message I want to leave with you here.

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