Interview with the Mayor of Hinton, Alberta – Glenn Taylor
I first met Glenn on Twitter, when he put a link out asking for feedback on a housing report for the Town of Hinton. I replied asking if he and his administration had considered using a wiki for policy feedback from citizens? He replied, “No, but I’ll pass it along.” Then becoming Facebook friends and continuing our discussion, we found out that he was presenting at the ALI Social Media for Government conference. This gave me an opportunity to meet Glenn in person for the first time. Glenn was presenting a fire-side chat (no PPT slides) with Ken Chapman of Cambridge Strategies about the Grande Alberta Economic Region (GAER). The story is interesting in terms of how this particular region has been impacted by many different issues. The Mountain Pine Beetle for example has had a devastating effect. After the conference we agreed to follow-up and today’s interview was our next step.
WS: Why become an elected official?
GT: “That started in the sandbox, I was learning about the political process in grade 5 which was when I became class president. After school I was involved in unions and activism. For me, it has always been a sense of representing other’s concerns that’s interested me. Union politics turned out to be too limiting, contractual negotiations etc – a narrow lens of looking at the world.
The opportunity to represent citizens’ concerns to administration is what I found fascinating and why I really love governing at the municipal level. You can discuss something at Council and the next day be having a cup of coffee over the fence with a neighbour fielding questions about the decision. That has translated into what is currently my 3rd term on council and 2nd term as Mayor. We’ve focused on shaping the community identity. We’re an industrial town, and yet, as a community realize that we have a responsibility to give back to the land.”
During the ALI conference, Glenn described his initial response to Ken Chapman’s suggestion that he start using social media as resistive. “I don’t have time for this,” he stated while speaking at the ALI conference this week. However, what I don’t think Glenn bargained for is how persistent Ken Chapman can be and so @mayorhinton is now active on Twitter. Also during that presentation he revealed that others on his Town Council are on Facebook now, although they’re not as active as they could be and more Twitter accounts have been set-up recently too.
WS: What resistance if any has there been from your colleagues on Council, administration or the region?
GT: “Well I would start with the traditionalists being afraid to engage, the silent majority if you will. They’re asking, how can we control the message? What’s motivating that fear are examples like what’s happening with elements associated with Rockyview County Council generating a facebook group. Basically fixating on the negative.
We (government) can’t be superficial, can’t just listen and continue to do the same thing. We need to take action. However, within administration there can be fear that change will bring about more work. Fear about change of the status quo. At the provincial level there’s a tendency to consult with citizens through town halls so that it can be stated folks were consulted and then do what was planned anyway. As the community changes, we need to bring that message back from the citizens to the government. In a municipal government it’s truly the citizens issues being presented to the government and that’s my favourite part. The challenge becomes then, how do we get those issues to the administrative team…for change in process?”
Glenn didn’t name the group but I found this one called Stop the Madness in Springbank! which seems to be against development.
WS: How do you see social media impacting your region economically?
GT: “Well number one – you need to make decisions with good information which means you have to gather good information first. Being open to listening is key and understanding the challenges. How do we tap into that knowledge? Traditional invitations to discuss the issue and also connecting people online through various channels. Flexibility has to be present in our approach so that we can reach as many citizens as possible. In fact, we’re hosting a workshop on social media to help folks understand the tools better.”
WS: What challenges lie ahead for you and your community?
GT: “We’re really at the beginning stages of engaging the citizens. I believe that we’re ahead of the curve and that’s a source of pride for us. However, there can be a disconnect between administration and council that sometimes exists and that will be something we have to work on.”
WS: What advice would you give to other elected officials?
GT: “Build the business case, not I have a dream, rather it’s what I have learned. It’s way easier to to operate in reactionism rather than finding the path. I’d say it’s important to be proactive rather than reactive. For example at our GAER Board meetings we now start with blue sky sessions and ask what’s on the horizon? What are you hearing in your communities? Is it a priority, do we need to spend time working on it…that means that key issues have a chance to help us set our course at the beginning.”
“Leaders get the behaviours that they themselves exhibit and tolerate.” - Larry Bossidy, Author of Execution: The discipline of getting things done.
And with that in mind, I’ll leave you with the same question that Glenn has posted on Facebook and like other elected officials I’ve come across (but unfortunately not all), he cares about the answers you give…