A meeting of minds with a mind to meet about the bracing topic of...civic engagement!
The Rossland Telegraph recently offered another opportunity for residents of Rossland to gather and discuss another aspect of civic governance; this time, the topic was how residents and the City could potentially ease and increase lines of communication between our City government and those it exists to represent and serve.
Nearly two dozen diverse individuals attended and shared their thoughts. Your reporter attended and took notes so those thoughts could be more widely shared, and possibly even stimulate more thinking.
One resident said that the process leading to Rossland’s Strategic Sustainability Plan was a good example of community participation and effective input.
Another person suggested that more use of the committee structure with citizen members would be another avenue for increasing community input. Someone who served recently on a committee stated that it would improve the flow of information (in both directions) if the committee itself could present to Council, perhaps as a delegation, rather than making the Council representative on the committee responsible for all communication between the committee and Council.
The group considered our current Council’s “Public Input Period” as a rather ineffective gesture toward communication, because people are asked to limit their comments to 2 minutes, and there is usually no response from Council.
The timing and use of “public hearings” was described as being not only useless but also misleading — residents attend a legally required public hearing for (as an example) an OCP amendment, expecting that their input will be taken into account, only to find that the public hearing seems to be only for show — it isn’t actually intended to make any difference. It generally appears that the process of approval is already too far along, the document is already in a final form, and Council’s collective mind is already made up.
Someone suggested that more Council members should take part in more community events; another commented that we need more opportunities for the Mayor and Council to interact with people outside their normal group of friends and supporters.
A resident identified a “chill factor” in expressing opinions — he claimed that if a person disagreed with City Hall, there have been examples of that person suffering retaliatory adverse consequences as a result, and that tends to inhibit people from speaking out, as well as creating an adversarial and resentful atmosphere — not attractive in any community. (It wasn’t clear to your reporter how long ago these disputes and their adverse consequences may have occurred.)
Another person questioned the level of formality now practiced in Council meetings, mentioning the fairly recent custom of addressing Council “through your Worship” and Council members responding to staff in that vein. The group recognized the value of respect and order in Council, but felt that excessive formality creates a barrier to communication.
The topic of Council remuneration surfaced; someone said that Rossland has the lowest-paid Council members for a community of our size, and the highest-paid CAO. One person said that he had always thought the level of pay for Council members was of very little importance, but another mentioned that there are quite a few people in Rossland who make their living by means of a number of relatively small contracts, and that if the Council stipend here were somewhat higher, more of those people could afford to serve on Council — they could take on fewer contracts, and use the freed-up time for Council business.
The discussion identified a need for Council as a whole to be receptive to citizen input on issues of policy and direction, such as the Sustainability Plan and the Official Community Plan. Mechanisms for receiving the input can be effective only if Council values and seriously considers what residents have to say.