A new website, public meetings four times a year, and broadcasted council meetings. Just three ideas an eight-member ad hoc municipal committee has come up with to improve relations between Oak Bay’s political leaders and the public.
Submitted to and approved by council on April 3, the community engagement working group’s 47-page report resulted from three months of study. The group was struck in January, in response to increasing discontent expressed at town hall meetings over poor communication between the powers that be and those that don’t in Oak Bay.
Chaired by newly elected Coun. Cairine Green, the group’s report makes a number of recommendations but estimates a budget for just two items, updating and maintenance for a new website. (The municipality recently approved $53,000 toward a website upgrade at its annual financial estimates sessions.)
At the meeting councillors – Mayor Nils Jensen was absent – expressed overwhelming satisfaction with the report. Coun. Tara Ney found the report “thoughtful and well-organized” although she did ask how the findings could be prioritized.
Coun. Kevin Murdoch co-chaired the working group and admitted that the report was “ridiculous in terms of length” but that the top five priorities were listed. They include information sharing, electronic and interactive communication as well as interactive public engagement, celebrating and enhancing community engagment and improving accessiblity.
In addition to a new website – which full agenda packages will be posted on, a new practice – priorities incorporate providing video screens in the municipal hall foyer for overflowing council meetings and coordinating community events with business and community associations.
But residents may still be out of luck if they want to telephone councillors or the mayor. Unlike their counterparts in other towns and cities, Oak Bay councillors’ telephone contact information is not posted on the municipal website and there are no plans to include that information on the new website. Green would personally like to have her number listed, but due to staffing concerns that detail is currently not on the table, a detail Coun. Tara Ney says should be.
“Look at Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria and Ladysmith – they all have councillor contacts on their websites,” she said following the meeting. “If there are any legal issues, let’s iron the kinks out and get on with it.”
No timelines, other than for the upgraded website which should be done this year, are provided in the report which will be reviewed by council on an annual basis.