Communication and Community Engagement

By Jane Torrance

The largest priority in the next term of Council needs to be communication, including listening with respect, empathy and an open mind as well as making sure that the good work of Council is being seen and heard.  I am very proud of the great things we accomplished  in this term of Council:

  • sale of 13 lots on the Business Park
  • renovation of the Pakenham Library
  • opening of a Youth Centre
  • formation of an Agricultural Committee
  • introduction of quarterly business breakfasts for business networking
  • building of our Regional Gemmill Park Campus
  • new bridges, lots of gravel, new trails, new bike lanes, etc.
  • rehabilitation of roads and sidewalks
  • managed a wait-list for the first time at the Daycare
  • great winter maintenance

The list of accomplishments is long, but most people only heard about controversy and conflict!

I believe that communication must begin with community engagement.  Good community engagement is about building relationships and then building trust within those relationships.  Conflict in a trusting relationship can be a good thing. It allows difference of opinion to exist without judgement, enables collaboration to reach a solution that is acceptable, and promotes a further commitment to the trusting relationship because of a satisfactory outcome reached together.

Conflict outside of a trusting relationship tears down a community, establishes an “us” and “them” mentality, blocks participation, communication and good governance.

My goal in the next term of Council will be to rebuild a relationship with the public, which I think has been damaged. I can’t do this alone. I want to part of a Mayor/Deputy Mayor leadership team that builds and supports a Council willing to do the hard work of good community engagement.

Residents across Mississippi Mills, across Lanark County and across the province want more say than ever in local government and policy, and there must be involvement beyond simply casting a vote.

I propose we use some best practices seen in other municipalities to help citizen input, including:

  • Focussed citizen and community engagement including public meetings, consultation, surveys, information centres, on-line guest books, polls, interactive infrastructure planning tools
  • An annual report card that records Council, Department and Committee goals, measurement and progress
  • Dashboards for project progress reports, so that when a major project is underway (a bridge, a road, a park, an official plan review) the public can easily see the, milestones and progress
  • Participatory budgeting, which would allow residents to have a say in priorities
  • Citizen focus groups to help council and staff, such as how to write a tax bill in plain language, or how does the public want to receive information
  • Speaker box, which would be a permanent installation at the municipal office, and could be used for the mayor to report following a Council meeting, or a resident to ask a question of Council
  • Youth council to build civic engagement and youth voice and opinion
  • Capture of public “Bright ideas” for innovative changes to our system, and be open to new ideas
  • A focus on customer service across all departments of municipality so our staff and council builds and maintains an excellent relationship with the residents
  • Digital broadcast of meetings. Although we all had a desire to make this happen in the last few years, it is only recently that the municipal office has been serviced with enough broadband to allow for a consistent broadcast

There is no avoiding the fact that we have had conflict in this term of Council.  I am determined, as part of a collaborative leadership team, to make communication and community engagement my priority in the next term of Council.

Communication was identified in our 2016 Strategic Plan as a priority area. We hired Brand Clarity in 2017 to complete a   Communication Audit  following which they made 8 recommendations, including

  1. Invest in a dedicated Communications Officer.
  2. Develop a two-year interim Communications Plan to bridge gap until
  3. Undertake a visioning project to develop a vision for the Municipality.
  4. Undertake a Strategic Planning process subsequently to create clear roadmap to achieving the vision.
  5. Invest in technology required to support the communications function.
  6. Identify core audiences and develop brand and high-level messages.
  7. Lever investment in email management system to build out email subscribers through acquisition and retention.

A Mississippi Mills Communications Plan  was developed and accepted by Council in October of 2017.  Council had a choice to hire a full-time or a part-time Communications Officer, or to create and train specific people in each department who would work directly with the Deputy Clerk/Communications Officer for better over-all. We chose the least costly option of working with what we already have but changing work around a bit.

Last November I led the charge to bring in Tamarack Institute, a leader in Community Engagement, to help us learn how we might do things better.  We learned a lot, and I want to use those skills in the 2018-2022 term of Council.

For more information on my platform, please visit www.janetorrance.ca