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It’s a matter of manners

Tue, 09/06/2016 - 09:50 -- Brian Keelan

Two of the nicest people it has been my pleasure to know in this life have been my own mother, Virginia Keelan and a man named Lowry McKegney. As I watched and read about the recent goings on at City Hall, they both came to mind.

Lowry McKegney was one of those people that everybody loved and respected. Born and raised right here in Sarnia, he worked at Imperial Oil as a chemist. He raised a wonderful family: six kids—three with his wife Kathy and three kids that they adopted.

Over the years that I got to know him, I was always impressed by the way he made living look so easy. He made up his own mind about what he wanted to do, listen to, read and watch. To him, every person—no matter how small—deserved to be respected. Age or life circumstances did not matter. How wrong they were in their opinions and philosophies didn’t matter either. Lowry always treated people as if he knew and understood how they wanted to be treated and they loved him for it—“no matter how wrong they are.”

One of the things he said that I have never forgotten is, “there is absolutely no excuse for being rude to anybody.”

Now I know you might say it’s ok if it’s Adolph Hitler or someone like that, but I’m talking about regular, every day people. The kind of living your life right that teaches your kids and grandchildren just by watching you in action. Rude people are… well… let’s just say they’re not very popular. I sure as heck wouldn’t vote for one and I don’t know why you would either.

My mother, besides being a great mother, was a wonderful lady and one of the many gems she passed on to me was the question she asked me whenever she heard me say something rude; “What did you hope to accomplish by saying that?”

It took a few years before it really sank in, and even now I say things and then ask myself after I’ve said them, “Why didn’t I ask myself that question before I opened my mouth?”

However, that little gem has also saved my bacon more than a few times.

When it came to the goings on at City Hall here in Sarnia, I was a little hesitant to cast any stones because in that regard, being rude to people, I am not without sin. However, as I watched our mayor defend his actions—something along the lines of, “If I have done anything wrong, I apologize,” I figured that is not really an apology, it is almost an apology. It reminded me of Jim Chevalier a few years ago when he introduced his new band Almost Floating by saying, “which when you think about it isn’t really floating at all.” So in that regard, I have to say that it really wasn’t an apology at all.

You apologize when you have done something wrong and you know you have done something wrong, not “if” you have done something wrong. “If” the mayor thinks there is any excuse for a professional person with a role as a community leader to treat the people he works with that way then it’s not a matter of ‘if” he was wrong… he was wrong.

What did he hope to accomplish by calling that woman incompetent in front of her peers? What’s even worse, he didn’t even do it face-to-face, he did it out in the hall in front of her peers, where she could hear him. I’m betting he knew she would be able to hear him. Did he only want her to know that he thought she was incompetent or did he want everyone to think she was incompetent?

Now here is the big one… what does he think he really accomplished by calling that woman, “the worst city manager I have ever seen.”

I read an article in the Globe this weekend about how hiring dynamics are changing in this age of super-commuications. These days when someone gets an offer of employment, they go to LinkedIn and check out the company or organization that is offering them the job. They find a few people who worked there and then get in touch with them and ask what it was like to work there and why they left.

What do you think the people who are in the running to replace Nancy Wright and Jane Cooper would be told when they asked Nancy or Jane what it was like to work here and why they left? Do you think all the top-flight candidates would be flocking to come and work here? This is the place where they would face the wrath of a micromanager who feels perfectly justified in acting like he has the right to treat people that way. Do you think the cream of the crop will wind up working here?

The LinkedIn story stated that the three top reasons people leave jobs these days are lack of career advancement opportunities, unhappiness with senior leadership and dissatisfaction with compensation and benefits. Did you notice that the money came in third?

Nobody ever says, “I couldn’t wait to get out of there. It was just too great a place to live and the people were so nice to work for.”

As I watched the $60,000 (minimum) third party commissioner’s report on TV, I was surprised to see several of the councillors admit to the “toxic” environment that has existed in city hall for many years. Does the mayor deny that?

Why would they say that if it wasn’t true? Where there is smoke there is fire and the smoke here is where six councillors voted in favour of the sanction. Even Mike Kelch, one of the two who voted against it, agreed that the atmosphere at City hall must change.

The mayor says he will not appeal the decision but will continue to work hard for the City of Sarnia and that he will reflect on his management style during that time.

I hope that reflection leads to a positive change… not a vindictive change. We need a change whereby the councillors who were elected to their positions by many of the same people who voted for the mayor are recognized for doing their job and not treated as enemies of the mayor by the mayor, even though they acknowledged the toxic environment.

The mayor and the council were elected to work together to make this city thrive and prosper. This is all in your hands and failure to do will be on your heads. To start siding with specific councillors or with the mayor only adds to the dilemma and that must stop if we want to move ahead. The citizens of Sarnia should act with one voice and say, “Hey… we elected you people to do this job and be the face and voice of our community. Please govern yourselves accordingly.” states that the role of the mayor is threefold:

  1. Chairing council meetings
  2. Promoting relationships
  3. Managing and modelling good conduct

It further states: “It is critical that the mayor’s role in these proceedings is characterised by fairness, an appreciation of natural justice, and the awareness of being the leader of all councillors, not just those who are supporters.”

The toxic environment must change to one where the people who work in Sarnia for the City of Sarnia would tell the world, “This is a great place to work and the leadership is first rate.”

I remember back when the Bayer people bought PolySar and we were inundated with some of the boys from head office in Germany. One of them told me that it took a lot of coaxing to get them to come here but it took a hell of a lot more coaxing to get them to leave.


Because the living is good here in Sarnia. Let’s keep it that way.

I know there are some who will disagree with me on this, but I have written in this column before about Upton Sinclair’s famous comment: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong and if I have offended anybody, I apologize.

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