The Lethbridge Accountability Survey
Last week, all mayoralty and aldermanic candidates received a survey co-sponsored by Elect Lethbridge and Lethbridge Accountability. These two web-based organizations – the former being media oriented while the latter is an initiative of the Lethbridge Skateboard Association – have joined forces to provide a one-stop outlet for citizens to research candidates for Lethbridge City Council. The purpose of the site is “to provide the citizens of Lethbridge a way to feel a greater efficacy towards the democratic process in our municipal elections” (e-mail from Wade Galloway, Lethbridge Skateboarders Assoc). As a passionate proponent and teacher of local democracy, I commend these two organizations for taking the effort to gather, assemble and present information that can help Lethbridge citizens choose their elected representatives. Congratulations to Jenn Prosser and Wade Galloway for their tremendous work!
From a candidate’s perspective, though, this website has one shortcoming. The primary concern of most candidates – yes … we do talk among ourselves – is that we do not have the ability to modify or update the information we provided to the organization. Our comments and ideas are frozen in a pre-September 28th state and candidates do not have the ability to make any additions or changes to their original responses. Please note, though, that “changes” does not necessarily mean that candidates want the ability to retract comments or correct errors (although personally, if I am wrong about something, I would like the courtesy of being able to correct the information). Most candidates are aware of the Vegas paraphrase, “what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet,” and we understand the risks of uploading our thoughts and ideas.
Candidates want content modification because e-campaigns and web participation are relatively new to all of us: citizen and candidate and web host alike. It is the uncertainty in this newness that breeds some apprehension (and a lot of suspicion) in the “you won’t be able to change the original answers” dictate from the organizers. Politically astute citizens know that election campaigns can bring forward new facts and new ideas, and information can change quickly. If information changes, I would like the ability to respond accordingly, maybe even offering a “Kudo” to another candidate for a brilliant idea (yes … it does happen).
The response to this concern will probably be that candidates can actively participate in the open forum and feedback section of the site. This is great and can encourage further debate. However, the problem is that if candidates have no way of responding within their original profile of responses, then new visitors arriving on the site a week before Election Day – the time when most voters begin engaging in the process - will see responses nearly 3 weeks old, possibly with incorrect information or lacking new information. For most issues, this is probably fine. For big issues, there remains uncertainty.
The point here is that this avenue of democratic participation is untried in local politics, and for its uniqueness and overall goal, Jenn and Wade (again) receive my congratulations. However, the information provided by candidates should be open to modification (even identifying such changes would alleviate concerns) and should be available for us to update. Democracy is a two-way conversation where we should expect to learn from others, sometimes challenging and sometimes embracing different positions and opinions. To have candidate responses fixed in time, unable to respond, limits effective participation. Therein lies the challenge and opportunities for candidates and citizens alike.
In an effort to provide myself a place to respond to new information, new issues and new ideas that may arise from the Lethbridge Accountability survey, I have opened a new “Issues” page, appropriately called “Lethbridge Accountability”. Here I list my original responses to the survey, but I can address concerns, respond to commentary and – yes – even modify my own responses when new and better information becomes available. Just so you know, I will not modify my original responses, but I will identify updated information.
So, as you participate on the Lethbridge Accountability website, please check back here regularly for responses and updates. If you would like a response to something, please don’t hesitate to ask!
I will remain accountable by:
keeping an online journal so citizens stay informed.
notifying citizens of significant issues.
meeting with citizens to get input and information before making decisions.
staying open to alternatives.
stating my voting record and reasoning.
meeting with citizens after decisions are made, to discuss the outcomes.
holding regular office hours and outside meetings.