(The Upper Kitsilano Residents Association has written a letter to City Council to raise many concerns about the motion that calls on the Appointment of Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons. This motion will be reviewed by City Council on Wednesday, January 20, 2016; speakers can register to speak via the options listed in the meeting agenda page. The motion proposed by Councillor Andrea Reimer assumes immediate implementation. As far as we know, there has been no advance public consultation on this proposal.)
The Association noted, “Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons will likely not ‘improve access and service to residents, organizations and businesses’ and may very well hamper such access.” For reference, the full text of the letter is reproduced below.)
Dear Mayor and Council:
Re: Motion B.6, Appointment of Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons
The Upper Kitsilano Residents Association is opposed to this motion because we have concerns that Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons will likely not “improve access and service to residents, organizations and businesses” and may very well hamper such access. The following are the reasons for our concerns:
1) This motion has been placed on the Council agenda with far too little time for city residents and neighbourhood groups to discuss it amongst themselves, consult members of Council, and/or provide considered input in a timely fashion.
2) There was a significant lack of neighbourhood consultation by the Engaged City Task Force (ECTF), on whose recommendation this motion is based. After consulting all of CVN’s constituent neighbourhood organizations, we have determined that the ECTF had direct contact with only one organization, which consisted of one member of the ECTF attending one neighbourhood association board meeting. Further, the ECTF didn’t hold any meetings open to the public, nor did they publish their own meeting agendas and minutes. That information had to be obtained via FOI. We do not consider this level of engagement adequate upon which to base a recommendation for improving “engagement”.
3) The term “engagement” is being used too broadly. Does “engagement” mean better dissemination of information about City services or is the goal to encourage genuine “engagement” with the development of City plans and policies? It is difficult to get basic information about City services as the City’s website is unfriendly but this would not be improved by a Councillor Liaison. What information is actually demanded by the public and how it would best be provided needs to be more carefully considered.
4) We have misgivings about possible abuse of the Liaison concept. Non-liaison Councillors could respond to questions from the public by saying “have you spoken to your Neighbourhood Councillor Liaison about that issue?” It may give members of Council “an out” not to respond to the public.
5) We are concerned that this may be a [public relations] exercise that says, “look, we’re making it easier for the public to engage with their City government and have their concerns heard!” rather than providing genuine avenues to encourage public involvement with the development of City plans and policies.
6) To reduce their workload, we are concerned that City clerks and some of the Councillors’ staff will forward correspondence and refer calls to the designated Councillor Liaison. So instead of the Councillor Liaison linking people with the appropriate staff, department, service or Councillor, the Liaison will be unneeded and possibly un-informed middle-person getting in the way of citizens’ efforts at engagement.
7) There is a very real potential for unfairness among neighbourhoods to develop as a result of the Liaison concept. We are concerned that each Councillor is to provide a prioritized list of preferred neighbourhoods from which the Mayor will select who will represent which area. This should not be the Mayor’s decision as it will inevitably cause friction and open the door to charges of manipulation or favouritism. Without a ward system, it is vital that citizens remain free to approach and talk with whichever councillors they choose and find most receptive. And as we do not have a ward system, each of our Councillors represents the entire City and should not be encouraged to show favouritism or preference for any of our neighbourhoods. Or, worse yet, a Councillor may be asked to liaise with a neighbourhood that is not electorally crucial for them so they won’t feel the need to “champion” them.
8) When submitting comments on developments, residents associations usually send an email to staff and all Councillors in the hope of affecting voting on development approvals. It is unlikely that community members would feel confident about sending comments to just one Councillor and hoping they get distributed, especially with the potential for political influences as described above.
In summary, whether and exactly how the Liaison program would facilitate /complicate dialogue with the neighbourhoods needs to be clearly thought out and agreed to all around before bringing in another layer of bureaucracy. There is a very real potential for the Councillor Liaisons to only further disrupt communication between the City and the public. Instead we suggest a better use of existing resources:
- improve the City’s website to make it more user-friendly for access to services;
- improve access to and remove any limitations on staff to communicate with the public. In most cases, staff responsible for particular areas have more knowledge and access to information than Councillors; and
- generally improve communication between City Hall and its citizens by facilitating access to information rather than responding to requests for information by demanding an application through the FOI process.
Therefore, we respectfully request that proper consultation be conducted to document ideas and concerns of residents, business proprietors and their respective organizations in every neighbourhood. These consultations will: identify potential unintended or undesirable consequences–as well as potential benefits–that may result from this proposed change; better determine how problematic consequences might be prevented or mitigated; and determine whether these proposed changes have, on balance, sufficient merit to warrant implementation by Council.
Upper Kitsilano Residents Association
January 18, 2016