Thursday, March 15, 2012

Strategic Planning Workshop Turnout Disappointing

Continuing Apathy?

Turnout for the current strategic planning workshops, while boisterous is less than exciting. The second workshop at the Moose Hall saw fewer than 20 members of the community show up, it did however see all of city council in attendance.

I think it safe to say that about 100 residents have participated in the process in the first two nights with the 80 or so on the first night being the largest turnout.

When you consider the number of tax dollars that have been spent publishing these workshops the turnout is actually quite disappointing. You may recall this process was kicked off with the equivalent of a three page, full colour advertisement, in the local daily which enjoyed what appeared to be a half page on the front page. In terms of advertising, that is as expensive as it gets, and certainly should be a reliable way of informing ALL of Nanaimo what is going on.

Of course two possibilities could account for the low turnout, one being people simply don't read the paper any more, or two, this is simply a continuation of the voter 'drop-out' evidenced at the last civic election. You may recall that at the last election voter turnout plummeted to less than 27% and that most of your 'elected' officials have somewhere between 9% - 14% of the eligible vote. In fact 6 of the 9 members of council have less than 12% of the eligible vote, with four having less than 11% of the eligible vote. Put another way at least 86% of the eligible voters in Nanaimo have not demonstrated support for this city council.

There are still several workshops to be completed before this process is over, but without more public input, the validity of the results should be called into question as 100 out of 64,000 voters is hardly a sound endorsement of any conclusions determined by this process. Using a percentage as a guage, this means that .00015% of the eligible voters have so far participated in the process.

So, whether this exercise produces a useful, guiding document, truly reflecting the wishes of the majority of Nanaimo residents, or simply produces another, well written shiny report that is more useful as a door stop, remains to be seen and ultimately depends on whether enough residents are actually willing to get off the couch and participate in the process. This whole report will have cost another $120,000 or so, to do what arguably a team of competent municipal managers should be able to produce.

The third night of meetings takes place Thursday March 15 at Oliver Woods Community Centre from 7:00 - 9:00 pm.

Remember the whole purpose of this strategic planning exercise is to serve as the basis for a core services review, which it appears that city staff and some council members are simply bent on derailing, and putting off as long as possible. It would be most unusual if a bureaucracy, or elected government really want their performance judged by a competent third party.

allvoices

1 comment:

  1. My proposal for a key piece of the Strategic Plan.


    Together We Can

    In part, the strategic plan is a contract between the city and the community.  Therefore it follows that a critical element of this Strategic Plan should be the way the City staff and City Council works with the community to meet the diverse objectives of all constituencies.  A proven framework in this regard is a consultative approach at all levels which empowers the community to participate in key decisions that affect their neighbourhoods and their tax burden.

    This approach to achieving objectives is in clear contrast with the approach that Nanaimo has adopted for resolving contentious issues.  It requires a commitment to "power sharing" with the taxpayers.  It is true that Council was elected to lead and staff are appointed to 'get the job done'. It is also true that the City has limited time and resources. Nevertheless, it has been shown in other jurisdictions that a consultative approach to decision making pays dividends in terms of making better decisions and improving relationships.

    Public consutation is defined as good faith negotiations and discussion with community stakeholders before decisions have been made. This is in stark contrast to typical government 'communication' which seeks to sell the public on the merits of decisions to which they have had little to no input.

    This Strategic Plan should provide direction to the City to develop and promote a public consultation culture at all levels. Elements of this strategy would include; actively helping to form neighbourhood associations where there are none now, training staff in effective techniques for obtaining public input, developing policies on how and when public input is to be obtained and how it is incorporated in decision making.

    It is important that public consultation be objective and unbiased and that all sides of an issue be represented adequately. This is in contrast to a common practise of 'stacking the deck' in public meetings to ensure a program goes the way it is intended.

    One of the first policies that can be reviewed to show that concrete action is being taken towards meaningful public consultation is the use of Council in-camera meetings.  It appears that at times these meetings are used to avoid critical public feedback. There are issues that should be addressed in-camera and the Community Charter identifies their scope. However the spirit of the Community Charter is clearly for open meetings. Council can tighten up the rules for in-camera meetings and ensure that they are not used simply to avoid confrontation. If there is doubt on how open Council can be they can test doubtful issues with the provincial government.

    As the City appears committed to the hiring of a 'Communication Manager' it can use this position to lead the development of a public consutation culture.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Fred Kardel
    Nanaimo

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