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  • susanebelford

Public Engagement and Sooke Council

At the all-candidate’s meeting on October 11, some candidates talked about the need for Council to be more transparent and to consult more with the public. I had heard this before, and it puzzled me, because the past Sooke Council has, from my view, been more open to public input than many other local municipalities.

In the last couple of years, the past Council had five public District committees, each with between 10 and 15 members of the public and stakeholder groups. These committees explored the details of important issues facing the District; the Official Community Plan (OCP), Climate Action, Land Use and Development, Community Economic Development, and the Sooke Program of the Arts. Committee meetings are held at least monthly and are always open to the public; they are well advertised on the District website’s calendar, and newsletter (which anyone can sign up receive via email).

So, approximately 50 members of the public held at least 60 public meetings, which were publicly advertised and minuted. In addition to its many public meetings, the OCP committee hosted meetings with specific stakeholder groups and supervised a formal engagement exercise that garnered 2000 responses from Sooke residents. All the committees aside from the Land Use and Development committee produced substantial reports and strategy plans to inform Council.

Perhaps you understand my puzzlement. If all these people holding all these public meetings and collecting public input to present in public Council meetings is not a transparent process of public engagement and consultation, I don’t know what is.

While the previous Council does not deserve the insult of “nontransparent and non-consultative”, there is always room for improvement, right?

I’d like to see the next Council continue with many committees. While the Land Use and Development committee should be titled Land Use, Development and Environment, in my view, the rest--Climate Action, Economic Development, Program of the Arts, could continue as is. I can also see room for at least one additional committee on public engagement.

A Public Engagement committee would be tasked with helping staff to ensure that the public and the District communicate effectively with each other and that public feedback on District programs or issues gets to the right municipal committees and administrative staff for follow up. This committee would identity gaps in District engagement processes, and trends in public concerns and priorities and make recommendations for process improvement. The committee could also hold, in addition to its regular public meetings, quarterly townhalls, at which members of the public can raise issues, put forward recommendations, and discuss concerns. Discussions from town halls would be reported to Council, and factored into long range planning, as appropriate.

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