The change of pace was very welcome -- fitting a hefty part time job into a full time life took some adjustment and there is a pretty steep learning curve. The answers to any issues looked a lot simpler from the other side of the table.
I often said in the pre-election days that until one sits at the table and learns all the complexities of each issue and everything a Council is charged with doing, it's hard to make hard and fast promises about specific issues. The old 'you don't know what you don't know.' The Catalyst situation and resultant tax shift was a case in point. It never occurred to me I would be advocating to increase my and my neighbors' taxes by $275 (on the average home).
Now, 10 months into the job, I know a wee bit more. And after the summer hiatus I'm eager to get back to helping to fulfill some of the things that drew me to run for this gig. I got involved as a citizen over an issue I cared about and along the way discovered what an amazing municipality we live in -- and I'm not just talking about our idyllic setting. The people who provide the many services that support a civil society do a great job. They are so busy doing it, they aren't always good at what my grandmother would call 'tooting their own horn.'
And most of us who are privileged to live here don't follow local politics very closely -- unless we hear about something that upsets us or want to create something that excites us. Those who do follow often rely on second- and third-hand reports of what's up, via media or the slant of the groups they belong to, or what they hear over the fence.
Sadly, this can result in people forming opinions on issues without having all the facts.
That's another thing I'm discovering. It takes some time and attention to get all the facts, and most of us are just too busy to attend Council meetings. So how can the average citizen become better informed?
If you've read much on this site, you know that I believe 'communication is key' -- which makes me particularly excited to announce a new regular feature on the Municipality's website.
Council Matters is a newly launched newsletter (only one issue out so far), to be published twice monthly on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays -- following Council's regular Wednesday 3 pm meetings.
You can receive Council Matters automatically in your inbox, by signing up through the North Cowichan homepage. Just click the "Notify by Email" button (it's right under the Facebook and Twitter tabs, in the top right-hand corner of the page). Fill in your info, then every two weeks, you'll receive the newsletter directly in your inbox.
You can also sign up there for updates on other matters, such as --
+ Traffic Alerts -- Note: The intersection at Chemainus, Oak and Victoria will be closed until September 28th, for building a new round-about;
+ Info on the draft Climate Action and Energy Plan -- It'll be out for public review sometime this fall; sign up, and you'll be notified when and where; and
+ Employment Opportunities.
While you're at it, I hope you'll like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Council meetings are open to the public, and Committee of the Whole meetings (also open) are normally held on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month, at 6 pm, in the Municipal Hall.
Another thing I've discovered is how challenging it can be to 'take the pulse' of a community. I hope you will sign up to receive Council Matters and let us know what you think of plans early in the process. Engaged citizens can do so much to inform council decisions before they get too far down a road that is not publicly supported.
We're facing such an issue in Chemainus. It was believed there was pretty broad support for the siting of a new library (as part of a revitalization process which includes the creation of a festival square) on the Waterwheel parking lot -- yet a year and a half into the process, a growing number of people are expressing concerns about that site. Some of the opposition appears to be based on incomplete information. Would more complete information change their views? What's a Council to do? This item will be discussed at a special Committee of the Whole meeting, after the regular Council meeting on September 19th.
I don't have all the answers on how citizens and their local governments can communicate better and earlier. Part of it is that people don't tend to get involved until there's something they feel passionate about, particularly when they are passionately against it. One thing I truly believe: As we move ahead, we will do better if we work together.
All regular, special and committee meeting times, agendas and minutes are posted on the Municipal website. So are By-Laws, Forms, Programs (such as "Kitchen Pitch-In," which has already diverted 48% of our garbage away from the landfill), Schedules and much more. Just use the "Quick Links" button at the top left of the homepage to find them.
If you're a photography buff, and willing to share any great shots of anywhere in North Cowichan you've taken, you can upload them onto the website by clicking the "Share Your Photos" tab. They'll appear (in random rotation) on our home page.
We're in the process of updating the website, too. So I promise, it will be more user-friendly soon. Council values your input. If you'd like to communicate in writing, click here for your options.
I hope you'll consider taking advantage of these new opportunities to get more engaged. And there are more coming down the pike, so stay tuned.
The more we as citizens are aware and involved, the more we can work together collaboratively and openly with our local government and each other -- and the more our community becomes resilient and our future stronger.