- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

In the inaugural issue of the Owen Sound Tribune, July 18, 1996, Mayor Stew Taylor introduced his column "The City" - reprinted below.  He referred to municipal government as "the truest form of democracy" and invited readers to send him their questions and he would do his best to answer them. In this first column he even answers the most commonly asked question of that summer, about the city hall parking lot construction. Plus ça change, eh?

When Ian Boddy first ran for mayor in 2014, he said that "City Council must change how things are done and how they communicate with the larger community." One of their first steps was to hire a "Communications Advisor, responsible for communication and information strategies for the City". In less than two years, that newly created position was gone, and the Marketing Director for the Attack hockey franchise was hired as "Manager of Community Development and Marketing". Re-designing the City's hacked website and building and developing content for the City's social media accounts have been significant projects. In other words, we now pay to have someone doing the City's public relations full-time.

Technology has changed. Stew was inviting questions by letter and fax. He could not have dreamt of the speed and impact of social media when he said he wanted his columns to have an "interactive nature". In Mark Zuckerberg's world, some city politicians and staff feel like punching bags, while some Owen Sound residents still question whether they have an "open and transparent government". 

Can we achieve a civil balance?  Could this kind of column be run today, or have we become too cynical?

The City

- By Stew Taylor, July 18, 1996

I’m pleased to welcome The Tribune to Owen Sound’s family of businesses and just as pleased to be able to actively participate by contributing to the local flavour, writing on issues related to municipal level of government.

As you will soon discover, this is, in my biased opinion, the truest form of democracy, as we are so close to the issues at all times. The decisions our council makes generally impact on you, our readers, directly or indirectly, as you work or play in our community.

The column is generally to be of an interactive nature, whereby the readers can write or fax The Tribune questions related to municipal politics. In return, I will do my best to respond.

For example, one most commonly asked question this summer has been “How could council possibly approve spending taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars on restructuring the city hall parking lot when other streets and sidewalks need repair?”

The answer is that during each budget setting process in March, city council meets to determine the priorities for the current year. Last March, we decided which roads, sewers, sidewalks, etc. were most in need.

I have to tell you that the needs far outweigh our ability to repair and our engineer would gladly have taken more tax dollars if council had seen fit.

The parking lots are a separate entity from roadways and sidewalks. Many years ago, the council of the day established what are known as “parking reserves.” These reserve funds receive all monies collected from the metres and fines by our attendants. The monies are then used to pay the salaries of the attendants plus upgrade the city’s lots as they are needed.

Therefore, no property tax dollars were used to improve this parking lot. If you had walked this lot with the manager or council members prior to the construction, you would have found it to be in dangerous conditions in places. Soft asphalt, holes, and wide cracks were the order of the day and the city, like any other business, is expected to keep its house in order.

As well, the timing for reconstruction was perfect as the completion of the 8th street bridge was scheduled and paving was to be done there as well.

I’m not sure when the lot was last done. I know it was well before my 14 years as a member of council. In fact, this may be the first time since its original construction.

This is but one question and I’m sure you have many. What’s on your mind? Restructuring of municipalities? The new Value Added Tax? Why not write or fax The Tribune and I’ll do my best each week to address your questions to the best of my ability as Mayor of Owen Sound.

I have always been committed to the principle of open and responsible government. By writing this column, I believe you will have a better understanding of the local issues. Send in those questions and next week, we’ll start for real.

Questions for Mayor Stew Taylor can be directed to The Tribune at 1032 2nd Ave. East, Owen Sound, Ont. N4K 2H7 or fax us at 371-8532.