The following is my delegation to General Committee at the meeting of November 1st in its entirety:
Mr. Chariman and fellow councilors,
I am bringing forward tonight a matter to do with the scheduling of advisory comittee meetings as laid out in the terms of reference.
Before coming before you I believe I have gone through the appropriate channels, first addressing my issue with the chair of the Hertiage Advisory Comittee Clr. Humfreys, who was exceptionaly helpful in facilitating my queries including having the C.A.O. follow up with me, who was equaly helpful.
It was from Mr. Garbe that I learnt that when council was establishing the comittes back in the spring much discussion took place as to the frequency of meetings weighing in two options:
a) schedule monthly meetings and cancel them if there is nothing pressing on the agenda.
b) schedule less frequent meetings (quarterly or every-other month), have robust agendas and call additional meetings as required.
The decision made at that time was that it is “easier” to cancel meetings then add new meetings.
I believe the argument supporting that decision revolved around civic engagement.
I’m here before you tonight to present an opposing view.
As per the calender the HAC meets every second Monday of each month at 7:00 p.m. with the exception of August and January.
With the inagural meeting happening in June that makes 6 meetings for the entire 2011 calender year.
With half a years worth of meetings to do the business of an entire year I was suprised to learn that a strategic planning meeting and a council meeting have pre-empted two of these 6 meetings.
The HAC meeting in October was cancelled due to a conflict with a Strategic Planning Public meeting.
The December meeting of HAC has been rescheduled into the 2012 year due to a council budget session.
I completely understand that Advisory committees have the authority to schedule their own meetings. What I do not understand is the rationalle behind a committee holding meetings for meetings sake, advertising them to the public, encouraging their input and then cancelling those meetings based on subjectively reviewing the substance of their agendas.
Having attended the July HAC meeting, delegated at the September HAC meeting I fail to see how it could be claimed there was “noting of substance”, nothing that was “time sensitive”, or that either meeting would not be “robust” enough to hold the scheduled meetings, or reschedule in a reasonable timeframe.
How does new business arising from public input even get considered when meetings are struck?
I am preparing a delgation for the November HAC meeting as I believe there is a significant amount of buisiness that needs to be attended to, and am extreemly disapointed that I was denied that option for the October meeting, and will be for the December meeting.
Finding out that meetings are cancelled or not handles with any sense of consistency does nothing to engage me, it does the opposite.
Seeing as a new calendar year is quickly approaching I would appreciate if the Clr. or anyone else at this table has changed their viewpoints regarding comittes holding meetings for meetings sake.
And here is an excerpt of my delegation as recorded in the minutes:
(a) Mr. Christopher Watts, Resident
Re: Terms of Reference for Advisory Committees
Mr. Watts noted that many of the Advisory Committee meetings have been cancelled
due to a conflict with other meetings, lack of quorum, or lack of material. He expressed
concern as he feels that the public cannot become engaged in the process if meetings
are planned and then cancelled. Mr. Watts spoke from personal experience regarding a
delegation he would like to make to the Heritage Advisory Committee, but as the
October meeting was cancelled, he advised that he will now be on the November
agenda. He noted that the December meeting may be rescheduled. Mr. Watts stated
that Council should be aware that without consistency, civic engagement could be
Former Aurora Clr. and talk show host Allison Collins-Mrakas commented on my delegation on her weekly show Our Town touching on several of my points.
My delegation was meant to serve as a warning sign for council that they are nowhere close to engaging their constiuents, and the major flaw evident in the way they schedule advisory comitte meetings is a contributing factor, one that they can change.
My suggestion was in essence that council revsist the terms of agrement and consider option b) schedule less frequent meetings (quarterly or every-other month), have robust agendas and call additional meetings as required.
No sacrifice would be made in respect to limiting civic engagement.
Was I delegating for the sake of delegating? I’m not sure, but from the response I got it sure felt like it.
Only three councilors spoke to the matter, the first was Clr. Humfreys.
I was expecting the Clr. to reverse her decision made in the spring as noted on page 15 of the May 3rd Auroran. Clr. Humfreys was quoted on the issue as saying : “citizen involvement was beneficial to both council and the Town as a whole. “It keeps us in touch with the community and to understand what is going on out there,” she said, speaking against a recommendation to have committees meet quarterly rather than monthly.
Instead she said explicitly that she was against holding meetings for meetings sake.
But that is exactly how these meetings are apporached, both by staff and council.
Where is the logic in advertising 10 meetings a year that can be whittled away at the discretion of a comittee?
It does not concern citizens who want to attend or participate in these meetings that they are easier to cancel than add.
If you schedule a meeting and advertise it to the public for the purposes of soliciting input then hold the meeting or reschedule said meeting in a week or 2 week timeframe, otherwise it is obvious the meeting was not necessary.
Clr. Buck took the discussion in a completely different direction, bringing up the validity of comittees entirely.
Seeing as the Town has already outlined a huge gaping hole in their ability to deliver Customer Service, as is the rationalle given for a new “strategy” in that area complete with preasures to hire more staff for this purpose.
And seeing as there is an absence of the town utilizing Social Media or any Web technologies for the purposes of effective civic engagement, advisory comittees are where citizens are encouraged to present their issues before bringing them directly to council.
If citizens are railroaded into approaching comittees to address their concerns only to discover that these meetings are being canceled, than exactly how does the town council or staff expect to keep them engaged?
I was also incredibly disapointed with Clr. Thompson’s very beuracratic non-answer. Thompson referenced that the calendars for next years meetings have already been released. As if that in someway precluded the notion of changing the current system.
He also “hoped” that a better adhereance to the schedule would resolve the issue thus removing the necessity for anyone to return next year with the same concerns.
I didn’t come before council to hear “hopes” and “dreams” from Councilors. I came seeking a resolution to what I perceived to be a flawed system of scheduling.
Obviously Clr. Thompson overlooked the fact that there was a calendar last year, that it was not adhered to, so I’m not sure what assurances he believed he could impart regarding next year’s schedule that is planned in the same manner.
You can’t expect a comittee to adhere to a schedule when the terms of reference are laid out such that meetings can be struck if they are not believed to be sufficiently “robust”.
The opportunity to ensure that it doesn’t happen again by changing the structure of their meetings was right in front of him and the rest of council.
Instead it’s business as usual.
Advisory committee meetings will be held for the sake of having meetings and can be cancelled at a whim, because, well, it’s “easier”.
I guess like staff, to the majority of town councilors advisory comittee meetings aren’t valued as a means of citizen engagement at all. It is the perception of engagement that will suffice.
But will it?
One thing is for sure, I will not be bringing this matter before council next year. If they didn’t hear me through my delegation, repeating myself isn’t going to help.
And that’s exactly how citizens get disengaged.
I did however remain engaged enough to delegate at this week’s HAC meeting and given there were 14 items on the agenda and 2 delegations I think it is safe to say there is more than enough business for the comittee to attend to, and more than enough desire for public input.
So much so that it looks like a December meeting of HAC is tentatively scheduled for December 16th @ 6PM, to replace the one that was cancelled on Monday December 12th.
If it is held, and I can make it I will of course share my thoughts