Public Consultation

When speaking with citizens of Almonte, one theme was stressed to me over and over: public consultation.

The citizens’ choice

When was the last time your councillor sent you an email or phoned to say “Hey, I’ll be at (old town hall/local restaurant/library/Legion/other) on Saturday morning if you have concerns about that proposed (Official Plan/park sale/OVRT/zoning change)?” Or, “send me an email about (snow-clearing/traffic speed/crosswalk/water overcharge)”?

There may have been troubles with the bandwidth at the Municipal office a year ago when the cabling went in, but what has been holding your councillor back lately?

Informal consultation can be frequent; formal communication needs to be regular.

The problem I heard with public consultation was not just that it was infrequent and amounted to lip service; it was that few on Council listened. At the August 9, 2016 meeting where staff and Council proposed selling Don Maynard Park, only one Councillor waded into the crowd outside and spoke to people, and that was Councillor Paul Watters, who represented Ramsay. The Almonte councillors didn’t: apparently, they knew better than more than thirteen hundred of their own citizens.

You can expect me to ask you for your advice and your preferences in a number of ways. Let me know what kind of contact you prefer.

Videos of the Candidates Meetings

The videos of the three candidates’ meetings have been posted at the following links.  My sincerest thank you to the sponsors and volunteer organizers for the meetings and the posting.

For the September 12th meeting for Almonte and Ramsay candidates – https://youtu.be/6irtOoJjfnw

For the September 19th meeting for Mayor, Deputy Mayor and  Pakenham candidates) –  https://youtu.be/B8wa4jZ7Tpk

For the September 26th meeting for Mayor, Deputy Mayor and School Trustee candidates – https://youtu.be/GLzO3s2v2n4

The Work of Reconciliation

Relationships can be thorny. Photo: Jan Maydan, Almonte Fair, Lanark Agricultural Building

“We are so divided!”

“We can never heal from this.”

“Why do they say they will listen but they don’t?”

“It was a hard decision to hurt you, but…”

 

“This hurts me as much as it hurts you.”

“Why don’t you believe me? You’re not perfect!”

“It’s for the greater good. Trust me.”

From 1997 to 2010, I worked on the Indian Residential School abuse cases; I was selected mainly because I had experience working with victims of sexual assaults and on reserves.  Criminal trials finding several perpetrators guilty had started most of the claims. It turned out that thousands of children had been abused in residential schools nationally. The first ones were opened by the Jesuits in the 1700s, and the last one closed in 1996.

As one of the first program managers, I had few  mentors or manuals to guide me as I represented the federal government in mediation, court and negotiation with churches. I ended up modeling the role for new staff and lawyers, trying to explain the need to maintain a relationship to people who argued for a living. The indigenous, church and government parties to the eventual Settlement Agreement ended up changing the limitations laws in most provinces and how bureaucracies treat people.

How do you reconcile?  Is an apology good enough? What needs to be done? Does this mean you have to “turn the other cheek”? Suffer insults and abuse gladly or silently?  Do you have to forgive? No.

For victims, speaking out is the first and hardest step. A victim might only accept and understand what happened and know they were not at fault. Because some offenders are unrepentant, real forgiveness is elusive or impossible. For those offenders who want to continue a relationship, a challenging self-examination is vital.

I am sharing a speech that I prepared in 2009. The principles have a very broad application: to nations, groups, families, couples and individuals.  I hope you find it useful.

Overview of Reconciliation

Change

Am I the change you want? I want to:

Improve the Democratic Process in Mississippi Mills:

  • more public input into council and committee meetings
  • elections, not appointments, to be used for Council vacancies
  • see that residents’ fundamental freedoms and democratic rights under the Bill of Rights 1960 and Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1981 are supported
  • improve accountability through recording of all public and closed meetings (including committee meetings) as recommended by the provincial Ombudsman
  • amend municipal bylaws and policies to be consistent with public rights and freedoms under provincial and federal acts; remove any provisions that attempt to suppress them
  • implement a redress mechanism used by other municipalities that empowers citizens between elections

Improve the Service Experience in Mississippi Mills:

  • codes of conduct that deal with service to the public by Council and employees and a user-friendly recourse process
  • institute a hierarchy of response by elected representatives so that queries no longer fall through the cracks
  • promote problem-solving, time management, quality control, accessibility services and resolving issues to staff and train if necessary

Improve Roads and Public Works

  • seek input from residents on the future of sidewalks and roads
  • seek a heavy vehicle and dangerous good transport route through consultation with the public, commercial users, the province and federal government
  • pay attention to public needs, such as placing municipal trash receptacles in areas where people need them, not just downtown

Deal with Conflicts of Interest:

  • require annual declarations by council, public board and committee members, and employees of their pecuniary  interests and those of their family/conjugal relationships that may cause actual or perceived conflict
  • corrective actions for violations
  • support the new Integrity Commissioner and seek her/his suggestions

Improve Communication and Critical Information

  • ensure public access to recordings of Council and Committee sessions (except those closed under exceptions in the Municipal Act, which will be recorded for the purpose of potential investigation)
  • improve web services
  • meet with residents regularly
  • digitize and organize by-laws, policies and financial reports
  • allow public message access to non-profit community organizations

Improve the Business Environment

  • seek advice and vision from all businesses in Almonte and consult with our neighbours in Ramsay and Pakenham: what works? What doesn’t?
  • If expanding the settlement areas, where does business fit in? Is there a better place for more industrial-type use (instead of over the groundwater protection area)?

Improve the Fairness and Management of Heritage Buildings

  • allow opt-outs
  • establish priorities through municipality-wide consultation on support from public funds (such as community-owned, service organizations, commercial, residential)
  • encourage arms-length management and distribution of any financial heritage support and resources chiefly through owners, with municipal support as available and needed

Respect Parks and Recreation

  • no parks will be sold for residential or commercial development without public support
  • make park access, maintenance and development equitable
  • establish consistent and reliable information for residents on scheduled events and servicing

Utilize Volunteers

  • recognize and train volunteers who help the community by providing services and sitting on boards
  • seek advice from volunteer groups, including firefighters
  • Mentor young people in civic government through volunteering and shadowing

Enhance a Variety of Tourism

Tourism investment and support of festivals and the arts will be available and equitable to all in Almonte and Mississippi Mills.

Give You a Voice in Planning

  • As recommended by the Planning Department, over the next two years, look at expanding the settlement boundaries of Almonte.
  • Collect input from residents on what changes to the Community Official Plan they envision, and what requires clarity and certainty for their own future planning.
  • Discuss youth projections and needs with schools, parents and planners
  • Consider moving commercial and industrial business away from the groundwater protection area.
  • Explore transportation to Ottawa with neighbouring communities
  • Consult more formally with residents on senior services needed in future

Other
A community conversation needs to happen around drug hazards, addictions, policing and the effects of marijuana legalization in Mississippi Mills: what do we want from provincial services?