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Council Consultation

This past Saturday, Council got together in the community room on the third floor of the downtown main branch library in the second strategy session for the creation of our priorities for the 2010 – 2014 mandate of Council.

The discussion was positive, proactive and built on the overall strategy that has been functioning within the community for more than a decade now.  This is a good sign, because we see a uniformity of purpose across multiple council mandates.

Each Council sets its mark on the priorities most important to them and building on the work of years gone by.  For example, a mandate for Council in 1996 with regard to the downtown is completely different than in 2011 because of the growth and re-focusing of the downtown area.  Our approach in this priorities session will be more sophisticated and strategic than in years past.

The current Council has been very clear in its desire to create a more open and transparent approach to Council.  Sure we have had our missteps, but at the same time we have also had a great deal of success in moving away from conducting all of our business behind closed doors. 

As we proceed with our priorities sessions, I am proposing three new initiatives which will address community consultation, neighbourhood involvement and interaction, and building on our volunteer base as the foundation for our future development.

Community consultation needs to have a clearly defined set of parameters and an understanding of what consultation is, how it happens and when it happens as part of the overall policy structure of the municipality.   When you spend any amount of time researching community consultation you come across nations and states that require their communities to have an agreed upon consultation process. 

One example that I really appreciated came from Oxford, England and I have included their preamble as a clean statement of community consultation principles.

“All local authorities have a statutory duty to consult and involve residents in decision-making.  However we would like to do much more than just our statutory requirements.  We would like all of Oxford’s residents and our employees to have the opportunity to get involved in developing, prioritising and monitoring our services.  We will provide sufficient ways for our residents and staff to get involved and provide the necessary support to encourage involvement.

This strategy’s target audience includes the residents of Oxford particularly those that are interested in getting involved with consultation, council employees, members, partnership organisations and local groups or organisations.

This strategy runs from 2010 to 2013.”

With this kind of approach and utilizing eGovernment opportunities that Council will be adopting during the next number of months, we can establish a true 21st Century process of participatory democracy.

The Community Action Networks which I will continue to champion with Council during the priorities session, allows the ward councillors to get involved more directly with neighbourhood associations, and one time issue groups that arise.  It offers the financial resources for the groups to have a say in the physical, safety, environmental and cultural aspects of the streets they live on, parks they play in and neighbourhoods they call home.

There are no set criteria to how the Community Action Networks would function, and part of the reason is that we must work to include the public in the consultation process in the development of the program.

The last area that I see a real need for improvement is in the volunteer field, and as such, I formed a steering committee of organizations and individuals active in the volunteering area to offer suggestions.  The Solution Statement below was created by the Steering Committee

“Mayor Chris Friel has formed a steering committee to explore the need for a volunteer centre in Brantford. The committee is comprised of local non-profit organizations, City staff and community leaders, and there is unanimous agreement that there is a great need for a volunteer centre in Brantford. It is a fact that strong voluntary sectors strengthen communities. This centre would provide training and resources on all aspects of the voluntary sector and help build a strong community with working partners including governments, researchers, not for profit organizations, volunteers, funders, donors, labour and businesses. Along with creative and entrepreneurial leadership that understands volunteerism and the voluntary sector, a volunteer centre would enhance the capacity of Brantford to engage all members of the community in civic and voluntary activity.”

These are three areas being proposed to create a strong and dynamic process for community participation in the decision-making processes of Council.  Not one of these ideas is a fait accompli, and only through involving the community will we proceed to their implementation.

Council is working to give you a greater say in how your community functions and prospers.