The municipality has been working at improving communication with constituents for several years now and several sitting Councillors, myself included, made it a platform plank in the last election.
Lots has been happening, but it's felt that we could do better.
The siting of the Chemainus Library was a case in point. The Chemainus Advisory Committee and Council both thought they had taken the pulse of the community and there was support for the parking lot site. An 800 plus signature petition indicated pretty staunch opposition to that site. Did they have all the facts? Maybe -- maybe not -- but going ahead with a project against the will of so many people would not have been a wise decision when an alternate site was already identified in the Chemainus Town Centre Revitalization Plan. Lessons can be learned and hopefully, going forward, consultation and communication will be improved on the next big project.
As another way to improve communication, the aforementioned COW meeting was the first to be live streamed on North Cowichan's website. Each and every Council meeting will now be live streamed. Just log onto the website during regular Council meetings at 3:00 pm on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays and you will see and hear the whole thing. In the near future, all Council meeting video will be archived and you will be able to zone in on the agenda item you are most interested in, rather than having to sit through the whole meeting. And there may even be a way for you to give your input during the meeting via the internet down the road. These are the kinds of things a Communication Committee could consider.
I've already blogged on Council Matters, the twice monthly communication you can sign up for to receive information on what Council is debating. It is published on the 1st and 3rd Thursday. And North Cowichan has Facebook and Twitter feeds and you can also sign up for traffic alerts.
Shortly after being elected, the current Council separated out regular Council meetings and Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings -- holding regular Council on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays -- starting at 3 pm (rather than the NC traditional 1:30 pm start time) and holding COW meetings on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
After much debate at last week's COW meeting, a motion to return to 1:30 Council meetings failed, but a motion to drop the regular 2nd and 4th Tuesday COW meetings in favor of rolling COW back into regular Council meetings passed.
Some Councillors felt it was not necessary to have separate COW meetings. They felt that since the public wasn't showing up in the evening in any great number and we didn't always have enough items to justify two COW meetings a month it would serve us better to include COW in regular Council meetings once again. I would have liked us to keep one COW meeting a month in the evening -- I like the idea of having dedicated, less formal time to brainstorm and plan -- but the majority felt that could happen during regular Council meetings.
This decision shouldn't effect communication with the community. CAO Dave Devana made a good point -- some of the most effective communication a council can have is to go out into the community to seek input and share plans.
Look for several special meetings coming up. There will be meetings in Chemainus to plan the Festival Square on the Waterwheel parking lot and meetings, probably at Municipal Hall, to get input on next year's budget. And the Climate Change Advisory Committee will be hosting a meeting with the consultants that have created the draft Climate Action and Energy Plan, probably this November.
COW also recommended that Council reinstate the Economic Development Committee. Economic Development issues and ideas were meant to come through COW this past year, but so far, nothing has been brought forward. Hopefully, a committee that includes experienced and interested citizens will bring forward ideas that will help us attract and support businesses in North Cowichan that will provide livable wage jobs.
When I think about all the experienced experts that have retired here in the last several years I feel hopeful that working with them we can attract some progressive, sustainable and green industries who are looking for just the kind of community of communities we have to offer.
Have an idea for improving communication? Council values your input. Send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org