Friday, February 23, 2018

Every Municipal Politician Should Read This

Bridgewater, Nova Scotia had a problem. A big problem.  A pipe at their sewage treatment plant broke, sending horrific amounts of human waste into the Lahave River. People were upset and took to social media to express their outrage.  That's not a bad thing, but angry citizens freely expressing themselves on Facebook is not exactly the safest zone for local politicians to enter. Most councillors or mayors just stay out of it.  Very understandable, but also kind of sad because, when used properly, social media has the potential to be a great tool for direct communication between elected representatives and their constituents.

I'm sharing this Facebook message from Bridgewater's mayor, David Mitchell, because this is what great direct communication looks like.  He doesn't belittle citizens for their passionate posts.  He doesn't try to spin the message to be prettier than it is.  He simply informs, tries to promote understanding and asks people to do better.  The bar has been raised in Bridgewater.

Here's his message:

UPDATE: The repair is complete.
The crews worked to repair what was an infrastructure failure into Pumping Station Four on South King Street. First, I would like to thank our staff and council for being open, proactive and transparent with the public. The CAO and I spent a lot of time with local and provincial media and on Facebook explaining the situation and the course of action required for the fix. It is important to us, good news or bad that you know what’s happening. It’s important to me that you are not disconnected from your town.
As I’ve stated here before, this was a broken pipe. These things do happen whether pipes are new or old. We replace our older infrastructure as much as we can, recognizing that we must do so within our financial means. To put things into perspective, two years ago we replaced all the older pipes under the section of King St just south of the old bridge. That cost millions of dollars (without the park) and was less than a kilometer in length. We have over seventy kilometers of piping under our streets so this is not a short term problem. This is the reality every single town across Canada faces. Our country has an infrastructure deficit that we are all trying to catch up with. It will take time and money, both of which are in limited supply.
When failures like this happen, it’s not as simple as turning off a tap or plugging a pipe. Doing so would’ve backed wastewater up into every home on the West side of the river and then we’d have another kind of environmental disaster on our hands! Projects like this take time to literally engineer a safe and lasting solution. It does us no good to cut corners in the fix, only to have something break again and again. We must also ensure the people working on the fix are safe.
It’s easy, especially on social media to point fingers, yell and scream without the facts but it’s certainly not helpful or productive and in this case, changed neither our course of action nor the outcome. I have travelled around Nova Scotia and to municipalities across Canada and I can say with a great deal of confidence and pride, that the Town of Bridgewater has some of the best staff…period. We aren’t perfect, nobody is but these men and women work day and night to keep things running as smoothly as possible.
Since the 2016 election, I have worked hard to change the way we see ourselves in Bridgewater. I want us to take more pride in our community. We have a lot to be proud of. We’re not perfect but we all have a role to play in making Bridgewater better. For myself, I am on virtually every social media platform available. My email and phone information is public and I am quite often found around town. I will always welcome your questions and suggestions and in fact, I encourage them. If I don’t have the answers I will endeavor to get the answers for you.
Things are going to go wrong from time to time, but we have the best people in place to do what it takes to fix them. I’m not asking you to like when things go wrong. What I’m asking is that we all be understanding that when they do, we work as hard as we can to be proactive, fix them and do our best to learn from them.

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