Citizen suggests a pause on adding people to Advisory Committees

opinionred 100x100By Lawson Hunter

October 10th, 2020



As Council knows, public engagement is near and dear to my heart. I’ve spoken about community education, a wider approach to give citizens the opportunity to comment on policies and plans, and I’ve proposed various methods of having community voices heard – in particular – citizens’ assemblies.

I respectfully ask that Councillors search out information on how Citizens’ Assemblies work and how they are successfully being used around the world.

Fortunately, I have the time to attend Standing Committee and Council meetings being held during the day. Many in our community cannot afford to take time off to participate.

I attended one of the Citizen Action Labs, have spoken to several ex-members of Citizen Advisory Committees, attended a few of those committee meetings as a silent observer, and read the various documents, staff reports, committee minutes and the recommendations from the Citizens Advisory Committee Review Team. As you know, I go in for the deep dive.

As public engagement goes, I look at what the City has done with regard to the Adopted Official Plan and the ‘Take a Closer Look Downtown’ initiative as the gold standard. Dozens of opportunities, countless interactions, volumes of documents to pour over, many, many Get Involved messages, even walking tours and town halls.

Compare that to the City’s outreach for the Advisory Committee Review. Three Action Labs, an online survey and a questionnaire at an outdoor market. All done over a year ago. Yes, there was a citizens Review Team that, I presume, worked diligently to interpret the responses heard. But there was no opportunity to respond to the document that they produced.

Basically, a year has passed and silence. If nothing screams Public Engagement – in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS – it’s the Advisory Committee structure. Something that the public has been complaining about for over 20 years.

Then, on Sept. 17th up pops a staff report with a phased in approach and a request from the Corporate Services CSSRAC committee to start recruiting Advisory Committee members.

Which to my mind, means that we’ve gone back to the status quo while the Clerk’s office works out the details.

So here’s my request. Hit the pause button for a few more months. We’ve all been distracted by COVID. Parents are struggling how to send their kids to school and keep their families safe. Operations at City Hall has morphed into a giant Zoom call. Council is about to be swallowed up with the City’s 2021 Budget. Business owners are fighting to keep their doors open. And more and more people have lost their jobs, and are lining up at Food Banks and COVID testing sites.

Is this the time to start recruiting for Advisory Committees? We’ve gone seven months without them. What harm would another few months do?

Hit the pause button and give this staff report, and some details, to those people who spent their time attending the Action Labs, who bothered to fill out the surveys, who sit or have sat on previous Advisory committees, the Engagement Charter and Shape Burlington.

Give us a chance to review what’s being proposed. One last chance to make a suggestion or comment. A bit more time to decide whether or not we want to sign up for a committee, or decide to let others take over.

That would be Public Engagement, the kind that we deserve here in Burlington.


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5 comments to Citizen suggests a pause on adding people to Advisory Committees

  • david barker

    When I was interviewed as a candidate to sit on the Heritage Committee it was as if the interviewers were seeking to determine if my views matched those of other members of the committee and to see if I would be “a good chap and not rock the boat”. My previous interview experiences over my 47 year professional career allowed me to show what the interviewers wanted to see.

    Really acceptance as a member of any advisory committee should solely rest on one’s committment to abide by the code of conduct and to endeavour to attend all meetings. One’s views should have no bearing.

    The Heritage Committee was given a presentation by the authors of the the review they conducted into the structure of all Advisory Committees. To a man (gender neutral) the members of the Heritage Committee rejected the conclusions and recommendations of the report as being completely out of touch with reality. It is my understanding that pretty much every advisory committee also rejected the report’s findings, as it seems Council did too. One of the assumptions the authors of the report worked under was that there is a huge queue of people clamouring to get on committees! That could not be further from the truth. As Anne & Dave Marsden correctly point out it is exceptionally rare to have a member of the public attend as an observer.

  • Penny Hersh

    Until council members are prepared to sit back and not have the ability to deny a citizen the right to be on an Advisory Committee ( Council has final say on who sits on these committees) there is no separation between residents and council.

    For those of us who sat on Advisory Councils, most are simply “lip service” committees, with no autonomy. When the review was completed and a report and suggestions were presented to council the item was eliminated from the council agenda.

    When the review was taking place I told someone who was involved that it was a waste of time, and I was proven right.

  • david barker

    I am a member of an advisory committee; the Heritage Advisory Committee, which is one of a few advisory committees the is a legislated requirement of a municipality by the Provincial government. We have until recently been operating at a bare minimum membership. On a couple of occasions before meetings were suspended due to the virus we did not have a quorum. Through the sterling efforts of our Chair, we have now added to our membership and even have alternates when needed.

    Putting a pause on recruiting committee members would be a mistake. A pause in recruiting would continue to hamper the committees in the execution of their mandates. Should another review occur and determine the structure of the advisory committees be changed, then that can happen at that time. Recruiting new committee members now does not impact or hamper what might occur in the future.

    I am all for public engagement by our council so that it may make informed decisions, but as others have commented via the Gazette there must be a limit to the number of surveys, action labs etc. We elect officials at all levels of government to govern on our behalf and in our best interests. Let’s let them do that! By all means lobby for your position as a delegate at City meetings or at the available public engagements. But let them govern!

  • Hi, Lawson. I actually sent an e-mail requesting that the city enable its Advisory Committees to resume recruiting. The Cycling Advisory Committee has not been able to add new members since prior to the 2018 election. Because of the ongoing review, no new members were added in 2018 and 2019, as a result, quorum was not met on several occasions last year. Several members’ terms have expired or are about to expire. The City continues to make decisions around transportation during this time, and the value of having engaged and informed citizens at the table providing advice to Staff and Council is tremendous. Our council have extremely aggressive targets in the Vision 2 Focus objectives for shifting travel patterns to transit and active transportation within this term of council, which is already halfway complete. When it comes to developing its cycling networks, and enabling people to get around their neighbourhoods safely, nearly every comparable municipality in Ontario has seen substantial progress in the last 2 years, while Burlington sits in limbo. I don’t think Council come close to accomplishing their objectives without the support and advice of citizens. Without adding new members and soliciting new ideas and new energy from the community, this committee (and I suspect several others) cannot function effectively. If we intend to have these committees in the future, there needs to be sufficient numbers of volunteers ready and able to step in. The review has been going on and on and on, with effectively no resolution for 2 years, it’s time to figure out the structure and get on with building a better City.

  • Lawson thank you for keeping at this. Most people do not understand the importance or need for oversight of these committees who generally operate out of tbe public eye as not webcast and whenever we have attended we are the only public and the committees have not been set up to include public observers – often cannot hear.or see overheads etc. The Heritage Advisory Committee in particular has a huge budgef allocated years ago but does not appear to be spending it for the intended purposes and have ignored some important issues brought forward by public and members. Concerned the monies given to this Committee to ensure heritage properties et al are properly designated to avoid loss will be redesignated outside of the public eye. We have other concerns about other advisory committees but will leave it at that. You are a strong and valid voice for public engagement and we are grateful to the Gazette for publishing this article. Again thank you for your time and dedication