The issue of citizen engagement

We heard it throughout the municipal election campaign and we heard it again last night at the Council meeting. How do Mississippi Mills citizens get their concerns, opinions, ideas and voices heard?  This is a critical question and is particularly important now at the beginning of this new 4-year term of Council.

In my view, municipal-level governance is the most important affecting everyone’s life more than at any other tier of government. Its at this level of government where decisions are made that literally affect your life and death — access to clean water and sanitary solutions; preventative health care and health promotion; access to services such as electricity; roads maintenance that allow you to get to work; education for children and adults; libraries; and local entertainment, restaurants and shopping all depend on the decisions of locally elected Councillors. And yet it is extremely difficult, it seems, for Mississippi Mills residents to know about, understand or influence these critical decisions impacting our daily lives.

At last night’s Council meeting this issue was discussed as sidebars to other important discussions. Council admitted to having on hand a Communications Plan that has been largely ignored due to lack of implementation dollars, staff resources (or complacency?). While discussing the makeup and purpose of Advisory Committees — both Statutory (required by law) or discretionary (as determined by Council) — the issue of public participation came up, again. Several methods were proposed including adding more advisory committees; holding public forums or Townhall meetings; providing surveys to gauge citizen opinion and providing more communication through media of all types. All of these ideas need to happen.

We need citizens to wake up and smell the Mississippi Mills roses. Mississippi Mills citizens need accessible, transparent and credible sources for the facts and information about Council decisions pending and approved. And Council needs to know where people stand on issues before making decisions.

I left last night’s meeting in a bit of fog– it was long, discussions were convoluted and the results were inconclusive (largely perseveration, performance and procrastination).

Here’s my unsolicited advice to all of Council to remedy this situation :

  • Do a strategic plan ASAP and prioritize
  • Dust off the Communication Plan and act on it
  • Ask for help –it’s clear that there is lots of interest in involvement
  • Be proactive rather than reactive — prevent the fires before they start

Yours sincerely,
Sherryl Smith,  Pakenham