Confrontation Culture Cemented in Our Civics, Change will be Challenging

Confrontation Culture Cemented in Our Civics, Change will be Challenging
[![City Hall at Night](]( Hall at Night
City Hall is imposing financial fees on protests to stifle civic engagement.

Not true, but it’s a believable headline – and it points to the biggest problem at our City Hall – it’s poisoned internal culture.

City Hall’s past made it completely reasonable to believe they were stifling engagement again. There are attempts to bring change the culture City Hall, and maybe it’s time for us (the citizens) to give City Hall the presumption of good faith and see if this culture change actually happens.

A Fee to Protest?

[![An overflow Crowd for the City of Hamilton's Official Casino Town Hall](]( overflow Crowd for the City of Hamilton's Official Casino Town Hall
“You can still protest outside city hall, but expect to pay for the privilege”, read[ the opening to the CATCH article](

The Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability Benefits (CAWDB) was “told it must have liability insurance to hold a rally in the forecourt of Hamilton’s civic centre” read the CATCH story.

“The situation disturbed the Hamilton and District Labour Council who voted at their most recent meeting to write a letter of protest to the city,” the article continued.

CATCH, as they always do well, cited background information about the City’s requirement for events in parks and civic spaces to have $2-million in liability insurance.

CAWDB was told they needed to pay $70 for insurance to hold a rally in front of City Hall.

CATCH was reasonable to believe CAWDB.

Our poorest residents – especially those with disabilities and mental health illness – are often not heard and face institutionalized barriers to engagement.

It’s not unreasonable to assume City Hall – with it’s history of refusing to give public documents, illegal closed sessions, and poisoned culture – imposed barriers to this group’s Charter right to gather.

Not So, But A Fee for Facilities

[![Taxi Drivers Rally in Front of City Hall (Feb '13)](]( Drivers Rally in Front of City Hall (Feb '13)
When I read the story, I was concerned.

Did some bureaucrat power trip into the latest fiasco at City Hall?

Or is this a case of a simple human misunderstanding where a rally becomes something more than just a rally.

It turns out CAWDB wishes to hold a barbecue open to anyone, use the speaker system, and access to washrooms inside City Hall.

These requests made the rally an event. City Hall charges for use of the sound system and access to City Hall washrooms “outside standard business hours 8:30am – 4:30pm Monday- Friday.”

The barbecue requires the insurance under Council approved policy “Food being given or sold to the GENERAL PUBLIC (not a picnic, BBQ, or family reunion where food is being given to invited guests)”

The rally itself, protected under the Charter, was not cause for the fees.

Charging for Insurance

In today’s litigious society, it’s understandable that City Hall has so many policies to protect against lawsuits for seemingly non-dangerous activities – the kind of activities that make civic society and democracy so rich and fulfilling.

Look no further than a ruling earlier this week forcing the City to pay $582,657 to an adult, and his family, for injuries the adult obtained tobogganing on City property where there were “no tobogganing signs”
[module align=”right” width=half type=”aside”]Editors Note: The problem of insurance costs for community groups and activities is being worked on within the Neighbourhood Development Office. A report is being produced to go to Council at a future date[/module]

It seems City Hall has no choice but to demand insurance, but we have to stop it from stopping a group representing some of Hamilton’s poorest residents.

We need to find a way to support insurance costs for groups such as CAWDB.

City Hall and Regular Business Hours
[![Council Chambers](]( Chambers
There’s another issue here.

It’s that our City Hall is charging for access outside of “outside standard business hours 8:30am – 4:30pm Monday- Friday”.

Our Civic Centre should be accessible – at no charge – past 4:30pm and on weekends.

Imagine if we put an ice rink out front and invited citizens to use City Hall on weekends.

Imagine if City Hall offered public washrooms. Yes, public washrooms in our downtown core.

Imagine if the City didn’t charge rallies for using the speakers, which we residents have already paid for.

Imagine if City Hall, just for a moment, thought about the optics of charging users fees for those engaging in proper civil civic discourse.


City Hall, Speakers, Electricity

City Hall charges to use speakers or electricity for rallies because, according to City Hall, it takes a city employee to turn on the speakers and electricity. Really? Come on Council, let’s fix this.

Our Need for Culture Change

City Hall

Be it Dialogue Partners, the initial ‘let’s call the police’ response to Tactical Urbanism, the sexual harassment scandal, the lack of progress on so many files – we’re confronted with a City Hall culture that rotted to the core.

City Hall has been at war with citizens for so long, nobody remembers what peace is.

Only recently did City Hall stop its campaign against citizen empowerment and start talking about citizen engagement.

[![Zebra Crossing at Locke and Hunter](]( Crossing at Locke and Hunter
Yes We Cannon, Tactical Urbanism, the painting of pedestrian crosswalks, the release of most public agendas to the public – these changes have occurred since May.

City Hall should’ve been doing their job of painting pedestrian and releasing agendas (they still don’t post the Accountability and Transparency agendas online)

They are not getting a medal for doing their jobs, they are not even getting a participation ribbon. It’s a reflection of how poor the culture at City Hall became that painting lines on the road qualifies as progress.

City Culture A Year Ago. Pedestrian Safety Wasn’t Really The City’s “Job”

City Hall is trying.

City Manager Chris Murray is taking an active role in fixing the problems. (Again no participation ribbon, it’s his job)

Last Friday, Murray stood in front of the City’s 600 managers and spoke about the importance of culture. We don’t know what exactly he said, but if it’s anything like his recent public statements, he would talk about how positive public feedback is to the painting of ladder crossings, he’s talks about how the Forestry Division is achieving its goals, how employee morale in that division is high, and the need for other departments to fix their culture problems.

No doubt, he addressed the Public Works sexual harassment case that occurred in the HSR and stated the actions of HSR management were unacceptable. No doubt, he cited a litany of examples of what is wrong with culture at City Hall.

[![Heritage Engagement Session](]( Engagement Session
It will take time for the idea of engaging citizens spreads to all City departments and 7200 City employees.

Even when it does, the City is going to make stupid mistakes.

City Hall has no idea how to do citizen engagement, they have no experience with it, and they are going to fall flat on their faces a few times as they learn.

Outside City Hall – How We Can Engage Them

I have the honour of being called a liar – by name – numerous times by City Council. I’ve been the target of the City’s poisoned culture for a few years now. I remain one of the least popular people at City Hall – my releasing public documents and livestreaming all public meetings angered the old mindset of City Hall. Even now, there are committees that engage in antics.

I’m giving City Hall the benefit of the doubt, for awhile. Let’s see if Chris Murray’s able to – using his imagery – steer the large ship and right it’s course.

Our role in this culture change is exactly that, to give City Hall the benefit of the doubt and to presume good faith – even when City Hall appears to screw up.

[![PJ Mercanti and Matt Green During Council's Debate on a Casino in Hamilton.](]( Mercanti and Matt Green During Council's Debate on a Casino in Hamilton.
I’m not saying we give City Hall a pass, or that we lower our standards. I’m saying we give them a chance to learn. I’m saying, before we assume City Hall is up to it’s usual, we take five minutes to speak to them about what their end goal is.

City Hall doesn’t know how to do engagement, this is our opportunity to mentor them in learning.

Let’s be ambitious together!