The mandate of the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Engagement is to report on engagement, and how best to improve upon the ways the municipality connects with Oak Bay residents.
At the last regular council meeting of the year on Dec.11, Oak Bay Council passed a motion (3-2) to receive, from the Mayor’s Task Force, their Draft Community Engagement Report. The report reviews the goals and objectives of their last draft report in 2012, gives an overview of best practices and general principles of community engagement, and recommends public meetings to get feedback on the report from the community before finalizing it.
The task force will deliver the public forums and report back to council with a final report that includes the public feedback.
Mayor Nils Jensen was expected to announce some new appointments to the Mayor’s Task Force at yesterday’s special meeting of the council (Dec. 18), however that has been deferred until January as they wait to get confirmations from a few people.
Discussion around public engagement was lengthy during the Sept. 18 council meeting, when Coun. Hazel Braithwaite proposed a resolution for a town hall meeting.
“This committee (Mayor’s Task Force on Community Engagement) has been together for quite a long period of time and hasn’t come up with a solution. We have been trying to work towards having town hall meetings for a long period of time and I think it is apparent by two members of council, in essence, having their own town hall meetings in the past week and a half that that is something that our committee is perhaps now ready for,” said Braithwaite during discussion of the resolution. She expressed the need for a question and answer period for members of the community to come forward and be heard.
Coun. Tom Croft, a member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Engagement, felt a town hall wasn’t the best format. “The three of us (Jan Mears, Coun. Eric Zelka and Coun. Tom Croft who make up the Task Force) felt that a town hall format in a municipality like ours doesn’t really provide what I think we are looking for in input from the public. The problem is that the mayor represents council and at the two town hall meetings that I’ve been to in this municipality, the councillors sat at the front, the mayor answered questions and people went away and they didn’t feel like they had been adequately served in the end by the town hall meeting. They weren’t certain that they were heard because there was no feedback method for that kind of meeting,” said Croft. The Task Force instead proposes to use a method that is a more conversational format with smaller groups discussing topics at tables.
During the discussion of town hall meetings and public engagement in a broader sense, Coun. Kevin Murdoch noted that as a government body, they are restricted in certain ways.“We have legislative restrictions. We are a legislated body. We have very differing opinions at the table and we can debate that in public and only in public. And we speak as one voice through the mayor. So those restrictions limit us. I think that expectation has to be put out there, that’s just the way it is. We can’t start debating things as a body if we meet, even in an informal way,” said Murdoch. “Someone suggested a public input piece around the budgeting process. I think that sort of feedback, something targeted and focused, where we can tap into the expertise of the community on some of these things makes more sense to me. I think that is a better use of the public’s time and energy than the more general meetings.”
There are differing views on how best to proceed with community engagement within the confines of council restrictions and staff resources, but in the new year, the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Engagement will be asking the public what they think.
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