Government transparency and accessibility has been an age-old issue with many government systems since time began and Ald. Peter Demong is taking that issue head-on with his brainchild initiative “Aldertalk”.
“Transparency is always an issue,” said Demong.
“Transparency and accessibility in government is something I’m very firmly in favour of and I’m always trying to fight to make sure that people can see what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and judge what we’re doing on an accurate basis.”
Demong launched the Aldertalk government initiative in January of 2012 and held his first Aldertalk meeting at the Parkland Community Hall.
This initiative, along with its namesake, was entirely his creation.
He has had several sessions since its inception at the rate of once per month at different community halls scattered throughout his ward 14.
His primary reason for Aldertalk was to overcome the one-way relationship between city politicians and voters. He designed this initiative so he could actively go forth and seek out his voting public in their environment.
“Some people seem a little hesitant with regards to phoning an alderman or their politician and I’m trying to make it as easy as possible for them to contact me with their issues and concern,” he said.
“Aldertalk is where I’m approachable and accessible, so please come out and talk to me about anything you’re concerned with.”
The Aldertalk sessions have had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the residents and community leaders in Ward 14.
The most recent session was held at the Willow Ridge Community Hall on Jan. 12 and community president Greg Humphreys said, “it’s commendable that he’s doing this on his own time.”
“I can tell you from the community’s standpoint, it’s (Aldertalk) exceedingly well-received,” said Humphreys.
“So much so, that he (Demong) has almost a fan or cult following that attends each one of his Aldertalks in each of the community locations that he represents.”
Humphreys agrees that transparency should always be kept at the forefront of municipal government but whether Demong is succeeding at this elusive problem remains to be seen.
“I think he’s working real hard to encourage transparency but I believe there are people on the city hall side who are working against that effort,” said Humphreys.
Ald. John Mar says that Calgary’s government system is as transparent and accessible as city council can make it.
“When you’re in public service, there is no such thing as private time for us,” said Mar.
“The fact that we (Calgary aldermen) work 70-hour weeks shows that we are as accessible to the public as possible. All of our expenses and everything are on the Internet, you can watch our (city council) meetings live and you can view them in the archives.”
Demong’s second session of 2013 was set for the Lake Bonavista Community Centre on Feb. 16 and general manager Dale Jones said, “he’s trying to make everyone comfortable with these Aldertalks.”
Jones does not believe there is a government transparency problem in Calgary but he nonetheless supports the alderman’s efforts.
“I don’t think there is any issue of transparency in Calgary,” he said.
“Calgary’s government is transparent to a fault and Peter is our alderman and we support him.”
Demong’s Aldertalk is not the only attempt by Calgary aldermen to gather public input.
Mar has been part of “Council Coffee,” an informal “tweetup” in which one or two other aldermen use Twitter to indicate where their next informal get-together will be.
These so-called “Council Coffee” sessions happen at coffee shops around the city where the aldermen invite voters to simply show up and share their concerns.
On the whole, Mar said that he has never experienced any trepidation from voters to approach him about anything.
“Personally, I have never, ever found that anyone was reluctant to come up to me and give me their two cents,” said Mar.