Public engagement targets achieved

Task force sent back to boil down recommendations

The mayor’s task force on community engagement will run a little longer than it thought after the trio presented its findings for council, sitting as committee.

The task force of community member Jan Mears, Coun. Eric Zhelka, and Coun. Tom Croft submitted its Community Engagement Report sub-titled Coffee with Councillors April 18. They reviewed the 2012 Community Engagement report, offering updates and suggestions to further accountability and transparency of council.

“So much of what was recommended in 2012 has already been implemented,” Mears said.

For example, council introduced a public input session during council meetings, official Oak Bay emails for elected officials and even free wi-fi. As well, web casting of meetings is close to implementation.

“Now in 2016 it’s really about how you do your work, how you engage with community on some fairly big issues,” said Mearns.

As part of the group that put together the 2012 report, Coun. Kevin Murdoch was also pleased with the progress on the recommendations from that report.

“I don’t think things are entirely broken,” he said.

The task force presented, alongside the report attached to that meeting’s agenda, a three-part initiative – confirm the right approach, determine the specific activities, and develop the plan – alongside an engagement framework. The framework included levels of public involvement to the point of voting in extreme cases which prompted discussion around the table.

Public input is “to provide us with the broadest amount of opinions and information available to use so we can make the best decision,” Murdoch said. “That’s sort of our job at the end of the day.”

He noted there is always a core of active residents appearing in correspondence and voicing opinions on many issues or projects. There is a vast portion who aren’t active,

“They expect us to do the work and make the decision,” he said. “I would love to see ideas how we can expand that (information base).”

Suggesting there are generally 10 per cent fans and 10 per cent naysayers in any group, Mears said, the idea is to target the 80 per cent in the middle.

The task force also suggested council outreach sessions on key topics in the community featuring ‘experts’ in the field, or simply coffee with councillors or community conversations.

Coun. Tara Ney voiced support for the suggestion of three-hour working sessions for senior staff and council using a facilitator and case study method.

“There would be some value in that,” Ney said, noting the differing ideas around the table on if, when and how to move forward on the information. “While we’ve accomplished a great deal here, there’s room for improvement.”

The committee considered a motion to draft a report in line with legislated requirements and a legal framework. That however would require staff time, which would bump another priority project. They opted to refer back to the task force for clarification of specific recommendations incorporating committee’s input.

“I’d like us to come to a place where it’s a report you can do something with,” Mears said.