Engaging the public - a report to city council is probably the first time people even knew what was being done - not the usual definition of collaboration.

By Pepper ParrNews 100 blue

December 10th, 2015


Getting a different, more effective level of community involvement with what city hall does for the taxpayers began with a committee that was put together by former Mayor Cam Jackson back in 2009 when he formed a committee and asked the late John Boich and former Mayor Cam Jackson to chair it. They put out a report – Shape Burlington.


Walter Mulkewich, co chair of the Shape Burlington committee.

Once an active Tory, Boich left that political party when he could no longer live with what then Premier of Ontario Mike GArris was doing to the education system. Boich got involved in Liberal politics and became an advisor to Mayor Jackson. He died in March of 2011 and was made Citizen of the Year and had an elementary school named after him. He was co-chir of the Shapre Burlington report.00

The late John Boich, co chair of the Shape Burlington report – the document that started the process that is intended to improve citizen participation.

The document put a lot of noses at city hall out of joint. But the process of change began.

The city hired a consultant on a two year contract to meet with the public and come up with what was referred to as a Community Engagement Plan.

That didn’t work out all that well – the consultants contract came to an end – and things remained quiet for a period of time.

The city got a new Mayor (Rick Goldring defeated Cam Jackson in 2010 – then the city got a new city manager and there was a sudden, refreshing gust of fresh air and energy at city hall

ChAT got formed – it was to be the Charter Action Team that was going to put the Community engagement Plan into action.

City Council approved the Community Engagement Charter in April 2013.

In April 2014, City Council received the Charter Action Plan developed by the Charter Action Team (ChAT), which included tasks to be completed over the coming year.

In the early stage the ChAT had four citizen members: Steve Surya, Gloria Reid, Yvette Dhillon, John Searles. Reid an Surya are leaving the committee; their replacements will be announced in the near future


Community engagement gets significant lip service from city council – in their hearts they believe they are there to do what they think is best – they believe the voters put them in place to make decisions.

Michelle Dwyer, then with the City Manager’s Office, Donna Kell (Clerks Department); Sean Kenney (Planning and Building Department); Angela Paparizo (Parks and Recreation Department, [member until fall 2014]); Kim Philips (General Manager, Senior Management Team champion [until fall 2014]); Doug Pladsen (Parks and Recreation Department, [since fall 2014]); James Ridge (City Manager, Senior Management Team champion -since spring 2015). Jeff Crowder, Carla Marshall and Sharon Will (ad hoc members, Clerks Department).

The team was in place to work collaboratively to put in place the Charter Action Plan, aiming to make public involvement part of everyday practice for City of Burlington staff.

They were to provide pre-consultation advice on public involvement issues or opportunities prior to launching a formal public involvement plan or activity


The people who worked long, long hours to put together the draft of the Community engagement Charter at a debriefing session.

They were to provide input on specific public information material before it is distributed.

Provide advice and insight to the City of Burlington’s citizen advisory committees, City Council and staff on city policies, services and programs related to public involvement

• Share information, best practices, trends, opportunities and challenges regarding public involvement

• Promote public involvement to increase the number of residents who take an active interest in city decision-making and can participate in engagement activities when they choose

• Participate in related meetings and training opportunities to stay informed of new and emerging public involvement practices
• Provide input on monitoring and measurement to ensure that the city maximizes public involvement opportunities in its policies, services and projects

• Report annually to City Council and the community regarding the status of involvement using defined metrics.

Community Involvement Activities in 2014 through Fall 2015

Lakeside Village visioning - Kaitline with man sneaky look

City transportation planner, on the right, working with a citizen at a public meeting that attracted more than 300 people. There wasn’t a word said about ChAT – they apparently organized the event. If ChAT has a story to tell they certainly didn’t tell it at this meeting.

ChAT provided advice to staff on the following topics (brackets provide information on community uptake of associated Insight Burlington and Let’s Talk Burlington tools):

1. City Services Catalogue (Insight Burlington: 252 responses)
2. Service Based Budgeting/the 2015 budget (Insight Burlington: 514 responses)
3. Parking Signage / On-street Parking (Insight Burlington: 1,047 responses / Let’s Talk Burlington: 818 responses)
4. Food Trucks (Insight Burlington: 815 responses / Let’s Talk Burlington: 68 responses)
5. Strategic Plan – process, engagement plan and as an active group presenting to council and workbook submission (Insight Burlington: 535 responses)
6. Community Trails Strategy (Let’s Talk Burlington: 219 responses)
7. Community and Neighbourhood Development opportunities
8. Coyote Management
9. Trumpeter Swans at LaSalle Park
10. Sponsorship, donations and naming
11. Chilly Half Marathon
12. e-Government project – a number of projects- the website, the public involvement portal/landing page and the “Get Involved” calendar (Insight Burlington: 296 responses)
13. Burlington Fire Department consultation – accreditation process
14. Public involvement metrics and measures
15. Preferences in communicating with the City of Burlington (Insight Burlington: 311 responses, Dotmocracy: 200)
16. City Talk magazine (Insight Burlington: 251 responses)
17. Election satisfaction (Insight Burlington: 183 responses)
18. Playgrounds (Insight Burlington: 242 responses / Let’s Talk Burlington: 359 responses)
19. Transforming commercial areas in the city (Let’s Talk Burlington: 202 responses
20. Transportation Master Plan (Let’s Talk Burlington: 438 responses)
21. Community Energy Plan (Let’s Talk Burlington: 160 responses)
22. Public Art (Insight Burlington: 308 responses, Let’s Talk Burlington: 41 responses)
23. Community Gardens (Insight Burlington: 318 responses)
24. Emergency Preparedness – raising awareness and communications
25. Business Plans
26. Intensification (Insight Burlington: 544 responses)

ChAT has been involved in or had an outreach activity at:

1. Citizen Committee recruitment Open House event (November 2014 and October 2015)
2. Culture Days 2014
3. Three Car-free Street Festival events
4. Canada Day 2015
5. Promoting Love My Hood initiative: 11 Love My Hood events occurred in the community

Chat plaque

Fifty of these plaques were ordered – expect to see them wherever people congregate.

ChAT and City Staff Members have:

1. Created the Community Engagement Charter – many citizens played a big role in the creation of the Charter in 2013
2. Created the Charter Action Plan
3. Created the first ever website portal for all things related to public involvement with the City of Burlington
4. Created and held the first ever “marketplace” for staff to showcase the tools, techniques, resources and principles to help with their public involvement efforts within the community
5. Created two videos to inform about and encourage participation in public involvement—one video with interviews and one animated
6. Asked to represent Burlington by making a presentation at the 2015 IAP2 (International Association for Public Participation) North American Conference (September 2015)
7. Taking a seat on the Board of Directors of Great Lakes IAP2 Chapter
8. Launched an online bylaws search tool (September 2015)
9. Included instant polling responses option for Insight Burlington surveys

One of the more telling figures in the data the ChAT team provided was this:

Just 18% of the people surveyed were aware of the Engagement Charter

• 85% knew they could attend a City Council meeting
• 64% were aware they could become a member of a Citizen’s Advisory Committee
• 61% were aware they could make a presentation at a council meeting
• 39% were aware they could participate in an online community panel

There were problems with community perceptions.  People felt their voice is not important, as City Council has already made a decision; that residents’ concerns are ignored.

The delegation process in place is a one way street – people are not allowed to ask questions of their council members in an open public session that is webcast.  Frequently; all too frequently, a delegation is made and not a single question is asked of the person making the delegation.

Work Plan/Next Steps/Deliverables for 2016

ChAT wants to increase the number of people participating on the Insight Burlington Panel and Let’s Talk Burlington, our online tools.

Increase the number people that are aware of their rights and responsibilities in the Community Engagement Charter and are aware of public involvement opportunities.

Create and use more standardized public involvement tools for staff to better track community engagement opportunities, satisfaction levels and results.

Expand ChAT by creating a larger community-based group that can help build capacity, share insights in terms of public involvement opportunities and replace citizen members of the core ChAT team.

Work with the larger community-based group to update and create terms of reference for the both the larger group and core ChAT team.

In the report made to city council the vision going forward is: To get “staff’s engagement skills, confidence and reach will continue to grow and that citizens’ appetite for involvement and willingness to get involved also continue to grow. Going down this road requires continuing support for staff and means placing more emphasis on making a public involvement call to action with residents. This is how democracy is strengthened.”

It is an impressive list of accomplishments – problem is that this is the first time the public has had a chance to learn what was being done on their behalf. The team is driven by staff – the public portion is far too small.

The detail in the document matters – no so much for what was done – that is why these people are employed. The collaboration seems to have been between the numerous people at city hall – they have failed to understand that the public needs to be at the table participating as equals – it is their money that is being spent.

Full text of the Community Engagement Charter

City Council workshops the idea of community engagement; takes it with several grains of salt.

City Council unanimously approves engagement charter.

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