The Sidney Community Association president questions whether the municipality is taking public engagement around its Official Community Plan (OCP) review seriously.
Dennis Carlsen put that sentiment in a recent letter to the municipality following council’s rejection of a motion from Coun. Terri O’Keeffe to remove language from the 2022 strategic plan that calls for public engagement to be part of all key municipal initiatives, as well as collaboration with neighbouring local governments.
Coun. Peter Wainwright, who opposed the motion along with Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith and Couns. Sara Duncan, Scott Garnett and Chad Rintoul, said he heard a lot of comments about the lack of meaningful public engagement during the Beacon Wharf consultations, and does not want to send the signal that engagement is no longer a priority.
“I would like to see it stay there,” Wainwright said.
McNeil-Smith added that engagement remains important.
“We have some very important engagement processes happening later this year with the Official Community Plan, the Climate Action Plan, with the economic development strategy and I would be in favour of having it remain in the document,” he said.
Carlsen’s letter picks up on this discussion. He echoed the need to retain community engagement as a priority given the major upcoming initiatives and the “fallout” from the Beacon Wharf replacement discussions.
“I would also point out that to give the public barely one month to comment on the draft OCP calls into question whether community engagement ¡s truly a strategic priority,” he wrote.
In making a case for the change, O’Keeffe said staff already pay attention to collaboration and community engagement, noting those ideas are value statements concerning operations, rather than strategy.
“Those should be part of our normal operating procedures,” she said. “If we leave this in there, how does this provide guidance to staff? We have given them that direction already.”
Only Coun. Barbara Fallot joined O’Keeffe in supporting the removal.
In an emailed statement, chief administrative officer Randy Humble said community engagement remains a priority within Sidney’s strategic plan, adding the municipality will reach out to residents on a range of projects, including the OCP, during the first half of 2022.
“The (municipality) strives to strike a balance between involving community members in decision making and ensuring we use the public’s time wisely,” Humble said. “We ask for input when feedback can make a meaningful difference and we avoid overlap where possible on engagement processes.”
Council will ultimately determine how the public takes part in the review of the OCP draft, he added, a process expected to happen in March and possibly early April.
Engagement tools may include open houses, virtual unless COVID restrictions allow for in-person event, and an online review tool.
“We recognize the strength of an OCP lies in the range and number of voices that help shape it, and that has been reflected in the degree of consultation that has taken place on the project over the past two years,” Humble said.
More than 1,600 interactions around the OCP were recorded in 2020-21 as the municipality heard from the general public, local First Nations and stakeholders through an open house, virtual workshops, meetings, surveys and other forms of engagement.