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Residents want more communication from city

Meeting about draft strategic plan was positive says facilitator

Powell River residents want to be involved in City of Powell River decisions and want council to be more proactive in communications.

That is the key message from a public meeting about the city’s draft strategic plan, according to Geoff Allan, of InFocus Facilitation, who was contracted by the city to facilitate the public meeting. Allan presented an overview of the public consultation meeting at the April 18 committee-of-the-whole meeting.

About 40 people attended the meeting, held on April 2, and asked a range of questions and made comments on the plan.

“What we began to see emerging from the comments is really a desire for the public to become involved,” Allan said. “They want to be informed in a timely way and they want to be able to participate a little more completely.”

Basically, there is an appetite in the community to become more a part of decision making in what is going on in council, Allan said, including budgeting. “There’s a strong underlying theme that people wanted to become involved in budget decisions, how they’re made, understanding what they are and how you come about to make that decision,” he said.

There were also a number of comments that spoke to the need for education about processes, such as for planning or tendering projects. “People want to know what is the structure of those processes, so we know what you have to deal with.”

Allan had five key messages based on the input from the meeting: develop more proactive and ongoing communication and engagement strategies with the community in order to build trust and encourage participation; disseminate information in a timely way to enhance community understanding; provide education regarding the in-house processes by which decisions are made in city hall as well as any mandated procedures that council must adhere to when seeking funding and decisions from other levels of government, for example, procurement and bonding processes; consider more public involvement in the budget process; and provide more details in the plan relating to measurable goals, rationale for priorities, qualitative and quantitative benefits and even budget information to assist the public to understand the choices that have been made.

“On the main, the meeting was positive,” Allan said. “The public wants to come in, wants to be involved and that, I think, is a positive message and an opportunity for you, as council, to look at ways to extend communication, make it more proactive, and ways to pass information on in a timely fashion, so that the public is going to come to you with questions that are informed and not questions that are based on a lack of trust.”

Mac Fraser, chief administrative officer, said council is starting to move forward with its commitments to communication. “I believe with the best of intents staff has been believing that they’ve been very busy doing their job and not stopping to consider that part of the job is helping you communicate with the community,” he said. “We’re refocused on that, that it’s not enough for you to make the right decision, but you must communicate that decision and seek help in making that decision at the right time.”

Councillor Chris McNaughton pointed out staff has committed to having council and the community involved in budget discussions from October to December. “We will be able to have a more consultative process for budgeting,” he said. “Although all of the budget meetings are open to the public, there will be a deliberate intention to involve the community in a more effective way.”

Fraser said the plan is to start with departmental presentations about services, service levels, resources required and funding, as opposed to starting with spreadsheets of numbers. That process lends itself to be “far more easily understood and communicated to the general public,” he said. “We’re going to talk about how often we’re sweeping streets, not how many thousands of dollars are in account XXX, which happens to be about street cleaning.”

The next step for the draft strategic plan is a report from staff about the input received during the public meeting.