Last month, Council defeated a motion to defer the Open-Air Burning Permit Bylaw to allow for more public consultation.
The proposal for a permitting system was presented, in general terms, to Council in the summer. The “meat and potatoes” of the proposal, the actual details, the wording, was presented to Council on a Friday to be discussed and voted four days later, two of which were the weekend. This is a common process for motions.
When awareness of the bylaw circulated through the community a wording error was found. Other questions were raised about why there was a fee for recreational fires and what about burns in the winter. A period of community consultation could have addressed these simple concerns. It also might have identified other solvable problems with this bylaw, or identified a different approach to address the issues raised by the Fire Chief: community safety, cost savings, use of volunteer firefighters time and environmental pollution.
Instead, the outcome was a motion to reconsider the bylaw, which passed, and a pending motion to rescind the bylaw leaving the problems unaddressed.
The proposed added user fee for garbage bag tags was also about an important issue, reducing waste, and presented on a limited timeline: four days between the proposal and the vote. This is not enough time for Councilors to consider how the words on the page might translate into effects on people’s lives. It is certainly not enough time for a full discussion in the community.
For better or worse, many, if not most, residents don’t take an active interest in the affairs of Council. They depend on the Township to make a reasonable effort to bring to their attention issues before decisions are made that may concern them.
In fact, most issues that come to Council are relatively uncontentious: both on Council and in the Community. Nonetheless there are issues when it is important to have wider public comment and it is difficult ahead of time to distinguish the two. The added time taken to consider all motions is not onerous, will make better laws and make a stronger community.
Township staff have increased information flow to the public through Facebook, Twitter, an updated web page, email lists, public meetings and surveys. Two other suggestions that might help are:
- Bylaws need to be passed in three readings; I gather this is a legal requirement.What Council usually does is have all three votes in one night.This does not make sense. The idea of three votes on an issue to structure in delay for reflection and comment. If Council even had the first reading at one Council meeting and the second and third reading no sooner than the next meeting, that would give increased time for public comment.
- The public notice for Council and Committee of the Whole meetings could include bullet points of the items to be considered.
I am sure there are other changes that would increase public input before votes are taken. Some community associations and business have a person assigned to watch council agendas, but they still need time to consult before offering an opinion.
If you have other ideas on how to improve consultation, pass them along.
Yes, consultation can get messy. All communities have a variety of opinions, some of which are mutually exclusive. At the end of the process a decision has to be made and everyone may not be happy. Yet, it’s important that everyone has an opportunity to have their say and that there concerns have been considered.
Besides the democratic reasons for getting more input, there are many interested, knowledgeable and experienced people in the community who can help make proposals better.
Staff, at Council’s request, has brought forward a proposal to create a $250,000 fund to help those people and businesses negatively affected by COVID. The funds will be administered by three existing community groups that have experience providing assistance within guidelines worked out with the Township.
One difficulty is that some of the people hit hardest by the COVID restrictions and illness are those that don’t rely on social assistance. They are families who usually have regular jobs, often well paying, or at home businesses. Their savings are being drained coping with extra costs and loss of income.
There is also the problem of local non-profit organizations that have had reduced fundraising or income and families that have had extra costs caring for dependents at home as day programs have been curtailed.
If you know of areas of need and how to get them support please pass the information along.