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  • Winnipeg Tribune

RYBACK: Are You Being Heard?

Kelly Ryback helps you navigate city politics.
Kelly Ryback talks about city politics.

Guest Columnist I Winnipeg Tribune

Winnipeg, December 12, 2023 - I’ve always been engaged with my local politicians. Only because I initially reached out to them. It takes time and effort. I can now say that I have been listened to and have credibility with many current and former MP’s, MLA’s, city councillors, and school trustees. Over the years, a few have become friends. Some have used my information in their presentations and debates. I have even changed some minds on occasion.

I retired from my corporate career early in 2020. A year later, I decided to get active in city politics. I felt the services received were subpar, and I did not agree with many decisions. I truly believed our city was going backwards. I was mad as hell, and I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I got vocal. I became a delegate on several topics. Wrote a lot of emails and lobbied behind the scenes. This exercise was sometimes painful, but eventually, I got results and built some alliances.

Opinions are like noses, everyone has one. There’s a lot of complaining and recommendations during conversations at the hockey rink, beside the water cooler, and especially on social media. But few people take their concerns directly to the politician. Public complacency has set in. Too many feel ‘it just doesn’t matter who’s in, nothing’s going to change’? That opinion is validated by low voter turnout. Only 38.5% of eligible voters voted in the 2022 civic election. That result is telling and unfortunate. The good politicians do listen, and you can affect change.

How can you be engaged and heard? How can you influence politicians and make friends? Let’s use the city council as an example, as city governance and services most affect our daily lives.

Rule No. 1 – Be respectful. This includes being polite and respectful of their time and their private lives. I have never gone to a politicians’shome to speak to them, never protested on their front lawns nor called them (where I have their personal phone number) during off-hours.

Rule No. 2 – Demonstrate you understand motions and agenda items. Be direct and concise. Understand the common goal. Don’t just complain, offer an alternative. Primary issues within city hall, leadership, and the front line include a staid environment lacking in problem-solving and creativity. The culture needs to change. You can be seen as refreshing by offering alternatives. At the same time you can be viewed as disturber by those who don’t have experience in a competitive industry where your livelihood is based on your results.

Rule No. 3 – Hold councillors accountable while delivering on your commitments. Do what you say you are going to do. Follow up with the councillors when they or their executive assistants (EA’s) don’t get back to you.

Rule No. 4 – Make sure they know how to reach you. In any correspondence and voice message, provide your email address and your phone number.

Rule No. 5 – BE INFORMED. An old high school teacher recommended we read/watch the news every day. I do. Learn to navigate the City of Winnipeg website More on that later. Google and find credible articles. Check out other major city websites on the same topics. Read some credible books on interests of concern. You will often hear from councillors and the mayor, ‘Other cities are doing it so we should.’ I checked out how ‘one city’ did what Winnipeg is attempting. It’s been a disaster that will have lasting effects for decades. Winnipeg’s disaster is looming.

Rule No. 6 - Become a delegate and present at meetings or make written submissions. Send emails.

Rule No. 7 – Choose your battles. Don’t take on too many items at once. Understand and accept you won’t always win, even if you are right. There will be agenda items where you can be regarded as an expert because of your career and/or experiences. Make a point to honk your own horn where your credibility will rise. Respect the outcome.

Rule No. 8 – Show how the undesired outcome will affect your life, your family’s, and your neighbours. Too often the public service is only interested in their outcome without considering the impacts.

Rule No. 9 – Don’t just oppose and complain. Also show your support and share your appreciation. Give congratulations when it is due. You can do this as a delegate, with a written submission, in an email, leave a voice message. This goes a long way.

Rule No. 10 – Attend your councillor’s public community forums, coffee house meetings, and their events. A great place to meet a councillor is at a company grand opening, community club or chamber of commerce event, or a retail open house. Introduce yourself and be pleasant. Offer to contact them later about an issue, just don’t get into it at an event outside of their community forum.

Almost everything you need to know is on the city website Go to it, click around, use the search utility. By-laws, budgets, annual statements, permit applications, appeal results, council and committee meeting minutes and videos, voting results, meeting schedules, and contact information is all contained on the website. The process to register as a delegate or make a submission is on the website. You can find the garbage/recycling/yard waste schedule.

Here's some quick links to use for your engagement:

Who’s your councillor? Want to find out how councillors spend their own ward allowances? Click on ‘Council Member Expenses’. Go back a few years. Be prepared to be ticked off.

Council & Committee meetings, register as a delegate:

Meeting agendas are posted five business days prior to the meeting date. Written submissions and delegate registrations can be made once the agendas are posted and up to Noon on the business day prior to the meeting date. Find a committee, learn who’s on it, and watch some videos. You may come across me at some point.

There is a lot of information in an annual report and a budget document. Want to find out how much fuel the city purchases each year? It’s 7 million litres. What is the number of city employees (10K) and their compensation?

Permits for demolitions, builds and renovations. Learn what you need a permit for and what you don’t. Find out if permits were taken out for specific projects.

And when in doubt, use the SEARCH field. Related options will appear.

I just didn’t want to just sit around and watch. I needed to get involved, and I’m glad I did. I encourage you to exercise your voice and rights. Your neighbourhood, city, province, and country depend on you.


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