Tofino’s council ponders public engagement

In today’s online world, attendance has never been more optional.

Tofino is sorting through strategies to collect input from locals who can’t attend council meetings.

During April 14’s regular meeting, council reviewed a letter from Tofitian Brad Dusseault who asked the district to better engage with locals by taking advantage of online communication tools.

“Many people for a variety of reasons are not able to or do not wish to attend lengthy council meetings,” Dusseault wrote.

“While I appreciate the efforts of the citizen who has been kind enough to post video of meetings online—please consider an honorarium for his efforts—I would like council to take this one step further and have staff research the possibility of collecting information on issues from citizens electronically.”

He suggested surveys, chats and other web-based engagements.

“This might provide a little more transparency to process and help gather opinion and information for decision making,” he wrote.

Coun. Duncan McMaster applauded the efforts of the volunteer who broadcasts council meetings online but added that district staff and council have been actively posting surveys and other input opportunities to the web.

“It may be worth just pointing some of these things out to Mr. Dusseault in a letter and, if he thinks that’s insufficient, I’d like to hear from him,” McMaster said.

“I believe he doesn’t fully comprehend what we’re doing or what is available.”

Mayor Josie Osborne agreed to follow up with Dusseault, inform him of the district’s current communication efforts and ask for his feedback.

Coun. Greg Blanchette said online methods of encouraging and gathering public input should be pursued.

 â€œIt seems like there would be a lot of opportunity for garnering public input without people having to actually come to meetings,” he said.

“I would like to see that become, kind of, an initiative of council and staff during this term.”

Osborne agreed.

“Within this council’s term, we would really like to look at these different kinds of engagement, and there are different reasons for doing so and different approaches for doing it,” she said. “I think this takes some time to really think about, and to do well, and to think about staff capacity.”

Coun. Al Anderson said council had looked into a communication strategy during its last term but balked at the price tags that came up.

“We backed away when we looked at the costs of even broadcasting the council meetings…It can be fairly expensive and then you ask yourself, ‘Do you want another bylaw officer to improve parking or do you want somebody to improve communications.’ You’ve really got to pick your battles,” he said.

“Any one of these initiatives is $30,000 to $60,000 a year and then once you commit that, that’s the expectation that it will happen year after year…We’d love to be able to do everything but I don’t think people would love to pay the taxes that it will cost.”

During the meeting’s open question period, Tofino local Menno van Barneveld expressed frustration over how Dusseault’s letter was handled.

 â€œI don’t believe that the Mayor and council of Tofino are interested in public engagement because otherwise you guys would have responded differently on the letter from Mr. Dusseault,” he said.

He took particular exception to Anderson’s suggestion that the district could not afford to broadcast council meetings.

“He flops out amounts of $30,000 to 60,000 in order to make this happen,” van Barneveld said.

“Meanwhile you have a member of the public sitting (here), who volunteers his time to record it, edit it, and put it on YouTube. You guys just wipe it under the table.”

He said he has received little feedback from council on his volunteer broadcasting efforts.

“It is a very valuable asset that this is being recorded…You guys are not interested in it otherwise you would have responded to it, you would have responded to me, you would have contacted me, you would have called me into your office,” he said.

“I’m not standing here asking for any reimbursement or anything like that but…I spend so much of my time doing this and making it happen (so) that people can use it; and it is being used in the community.”

Baert responded that the $30,000-$60,000 figure Anderson was speaking to involved provincial record-keeping requirements.

 â€œIt’s not about recording and dispersing the information, it is about all the other things that have to happen,” she said.

van Barneveld attempted to respond to Baert but was cut-off by Osborne.

“Each person, according to the Council Procedure Bylaw, has up to two minutes to speak and so I’m going to respectfully ask that we end this now,” Osborne said.  

Tofino’s Council Procedure Bylaw stipulates that, during a meeting’s open question period, “A person shall be allowed two minutes in which to ask questions of Council,” and, “There will be no rebuttal or debate on the questions asked.”

 

reporter@westerlynews.ca