Citizen Engagement scrambling for committee members

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

November 19th, 2020



It was a one hour virtual meeting with about 35 people taking part – at least five were city staff.

City Clerk Kevin Arjoon explained the basics of what City Advisory Committees are all about. He listed most of the committees.

The Cycling Committee needs 14 new members – that seems very high unless all the previous members all left at the same time.

Members of the Community Engagement Team do a debrief after their Council Workshop session. Chris Walker is in the center.

Members of the Community Engagement Team do a debrief after their Council Workshop session. Chris Walker is in the center.

The closing date for new applications is November 27th – that closing date has been extended in the past – expect it to be extended again this year.

The intention is to announce the appointments at a Council meeting in January or February.

Arjoon is a big fan of citizen advisory committees – he has seen them work well in the five different municipalities where he has served as Clerk.

However, shortly before Arjoon arrived in Burlington a report from citizens on problems with the way the Advisory committees were created was debated at a City Standing Committee.

It was a lengthy report with perhaps too much data. It has one central point: that was set out in a Historical Note.

Adv Comm Review graphic

It was a major piece of work for the citizens – didn’t get past the printing machine.

Historical Note
This report and its recommendations represent the fourth occasion on which citizens have been asked to provide advice to council on Advisory Committee reform, beginning in 1997.

On each occasion, while the recommendations have differed since 1997, the initial conclusions were similar. Advisory committees far too often did not work as intended and were not properly integrated into the decision-making process.

Poor structure, poor terms of reference, misunderstandings, lack of relevant training, and selection methods open to influence all worked to undermine the role advisory committees should have in establishing citizen voices with appropriate input at the centre of City Hall.

We therefore encourage council to adopt our recommendations, recognizing the very longstanding need for change and the ongoing need for flexible, collaborative and insightful resident voices as trusted partners at City Hall and with staff and Council.

Until the issues set out in the Advisory Committee review Team are resolved Citizen Engagement will be less than robust.

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2 comments to Citizen Engagement scrambling for committee members

  • David Barker

    I sit on an ad ivory committee and can definitely say it is not simply lip service. We review matters closely and either seek further clarifying information or we make revommendations based upon a concensus of the committee members.

    These comments are my personal opinions and are not made on behalf of the committee, or any of its members, or in any capacity as a member of an advisory committee.

  • Penny Hersh

    Until Council and staff are prepared to give up control of these committees, nothing will change.

    Perhaps the new City Clerk will be able to change the structure so that these committees become independent of Council and staff.

    It would be nice to see these committees be true advisory committees, not simply “lip service”.