Are we about to see a significant, and perhaps more effective, approach to citizen involvement?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  January 8th, 2013  The “new” Waterfront Committee is certainly different from the one that had its wheels taken away from it.

The city decided to sunset the Waterfront Access and Protection Advisory Committee that was created during the Cam Jackson era.  It was a good idea that was politically motivated (nothing wrong with that – just recognize why it got created in the first place) and it never really got a chance to find its way.  The city tired of it, used an administrative reason (duplication) to get rid of the thing and it was a dead duck.  Those dead ducks weren’t prepared to give up quite that easily and with the help of Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward they reconstituted themselves as a citizen led committee on the Waterfront and have set up shop in the office of the Councillor.

The old gang decided they had a good thing going and who cared if the city sunset them – they would continue to do their thing under a different name: Bob Wingfield on the left with Gary Scobie, Jeff Martin and Marianne Meed Ward who decided she would convene a waterfront committee.

Too early to tell how this might pan out but they have already done a couple of things the sunset committee wasn’t able to do – and that is communicate with people.  They have created a Twitter account and expect to have their very own Facebook page in place soon.    City policy didn’t permit Advisory committees to communicate directly with the public.  Burlington is still taking baby steps with a technology that has swept the rest of the world.  The people responsible for communications and communications policy at city hall haven’t managed to understand the role social media plays in the way the rest of us communicate.

The “new” Waterfront committee also made the important decision to meet in the evenings when it is convenient for the public to attend.  Most of the original committee made the move to what is now to be known as the Burlington Waterfront Committee (BWC).  They now need to determine who their chair will be and have taken a rather unique approach to this task.  There will be a person that “convenes” the meetings, but that person will not be the chair.  This was due, in part, to make it clear that while Ward 2 Councillor Meed Ward has her fingerprints all over this group – it is not a Meed Ward organization.

Someone else will be the chair and serve as the spokesperson.  Bit of a problem at this level in that there isn’t much in the way of actual leadership talent on the committee.  The members, and there is representation from each ward, are decent, passionate waterfront people with a deep, genuine concern for what happens to the waterfront.  Being passionate about something doesn’t necessarily equal leadership.

The one person who can do that job is Bob Wingfield who so far hasn’t volunteered but just might accept a draft if his fellow committee members push hard enough.  Wingfield could handle this for a few years, might take as much as three, while he develops and nurtures new and younger talent on the committee.  Right now I don’t think there is anyone under 55 on the committee – with the exception of Meed Ward.

The committee is creating its strategy; it has a full list of things it wants to get done – many of which are holdovers from the original committee.   The new Burlington Waterfront Committee (BWC) is not there to advise – it can now advocate and push for solutions to some of the stickier waterfront problems.

The matter of access to the waterfront is one that needs attention.   City hall is sitting on its hands over both waterfront encroachment issues as well as access issues.  There are people along the waterfront who have put up barriers that prevent others from getting to the edge of the lake on what is city property. The BWC can now delegate at council meetings and push for some action.

This version of the waterfront committee thinks in terms of a budget and talks about fund-raising whereas the old committee didn’t see itself spending the $5000 budget it had.

Meed Ward moved $500 of her 2012 $9000 expense into a trust account at city hall and ear marked that for BWC and then, just as soon as the New Year was legit, she moved another $500 over giving the BWC a total of $1000 to work with.  There was the suggestion that council members from each ward might want to allocate some of their expense allocation to the committee.  Ward 5 Councillor Sharman and Ward 2 Councillor Craven have waterfront interests.  Be interesting to see how they respond.

This newly created committee just might be the vehicle that opens up the current Advisory committee system the city has.  Heritage Burlington has done a superb job on how to preserve the heritage properties we have.

Brought in specifically to lead the review of the Official Plan Gummo got off to a very good and very strong start; the city was about to see a much different and more agressive review of its Official Plan than it had in the past.

The original committee had difficulty getting traction on a number of key issues that related to the city’s Official Plan which was up for its five-year review this year.  They decided that Old Lakeshore Road issues and waterfront access could be taken to the Official Plan Review (OPR), which was a great idea.  The OPR has stumbled with the very sudden “retirement” of Alan Gummo. Many expect that the OPR schedule is going to slip by as much as six months and perhaps as much as a year.  Unfortunate; Gummo was providing just the kind of leadership this task needed.

In putting together their budget the committee penciled in funds for speakers suggesting they want to invigorate the community with new ideas and get a real dialogue going.  That is going to need some fund-raising which this group seems more than prepared to take on.

It is indeed a much more focused committee that should serve the waterfront interests of the city quite well.

The Terms of Reference they are creating puts one little wrinkle into the longer term plans – the Ward 2 Council member is a large part of what the committee is setting out to do: what if the Ward 2 council member is challenged at the next municipal election and loses?


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