It was a very timid first step. The public involvement coordinator does have her work cut out for her.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  January 15, 2012  It was the first of five public meetings – and we hope that the other four are better than the first.  Take out the politicians who were in the room and then the media and there was a total of five people who could be described as “the public” interested in a Citizen’s Engagement Charter.  Most of the public didn’t have a clue as to what an engagement charter is or why we need one.

However, Christine Iamonaco is an experienced community development agent and a low turnout early in the game does not slow down people who do what she does.  Building community and developing the processes that involve the public takes time and patience.  Iamonaco, who is with the city on a two year contract to develop an engagement charter as well as handle public involvement in the 2012 budget and the early ground work for the Official Plan review, held her first community meeting at the Aldershot Arena.

Iamonaco’s first taste of the Burlington “public” was at the Heritage Workshop back in November when the Mainway Arena had more than 100 ‘unhappy’ campers on hand.  To go from 100 + to five people takes an ability to shift gears that only a politician can handle.

The first public meeting for the Public Involvement Coordinator, Christine Iamonaco was a bit of a head scatcher - a low turnout will do that to you.

Brave soul that Iamonaco is, she plugged on and explained what the Citizen Engagement Charter is all about and how she thinks it will get put together in Burlington.  There will be five phases to the process and, she hopes, three different levels of public participation.

The “drivers” for the work Christine Iamonaco is doing comes from the Strategic Plan and the Shape Burlington report that came out in 2010 which said the “public wants meaningful participation in municipal government”.

Phase 1 is complete and consisted of putting together the development plan Iamonaco intends to follow.  The time was also used to think through what some of the implementation procedures would be.

Phase 2, which will run through to March , will have Iamonaco out in the field meeting with various community stakeholders, holding charter information sessions and developing the three different teams she needs.

Phase 3: March through to August are for the actual development of the Charter – which assumes the teams  come together, are in place and functioning.  Included in this phase is the first crack at a Charter Implementation Plan.

Citizens will show up for a meeting if you make it interesting enough and promote it effectively. This crowd was going through the city budget.

Iamonaco is hoping to recruit three teams of people to work with her.  The most important of the three is what she calls her Charter Team – these are the people who will think through what kind of a charter the city needs and then actually write the document.  Iamonaco explains that her role is not to write anything but to guide the community and let them dip into her more than twenty years of community development experience.

Whatever that group writes has to go before the Budget and Corporate Services committee where it will get a royal going over by the members of Council.  We will come back to that.

The second community group Iamonaco hopes gets formed will be virtual, by which she means they will meet on line and exchange notes with each other and comment on the progress overall.

The third group will be made up of people who get email that updates them on what has been done and what is planned.  Iamonaco refers to all three groups as “fluid” – by which she means people can, if they choose, move from group to group.

Are Senior citizens going to play a role in the development of a Community Engagement Charter or will it be left to the younger crowd?

Iamonaco, Burlington's Public Involvement Coordinator, organizes her schedule and plots out what she wants to get done. If she can get the public to show up to the meetings - we just might see a Community engagement Charter.

Iamonaco explains that each of these communities will “self organize”; it will be up to them to determine when they should meet and what they want to do during their meetings.  This is truly grass roots organizing.

Phase 4 of the process is expected to begin the fall and be the period of time when the final community review gets done and the report is presented to the Budget and Corporate Services Committee and, assuming it makes it through the Committee, it will get passed by Council and become the law of the land.

While the Cam Jackson Council passed the Shape report and the current Council approved the hiring of the Public Involvement Coordinator (PIC) – don’t let yourself think this Council is happy with even having a PIC.  While they won’t come right out and say so – not one of them wants a city hall staffer out in their ward messing around with what is happening in their communities.  If there is a community interest or concern – Council members want the concerns to come to their offices and not to a staffer that reports to one of the General Managers.  If you have an issue and you don’t get along with your Council member – you’re out of luck.  Just ask Tom Muir.

Phase 5, which is to have a life that begins in October of 2012 and ends in September of 2013, which is when Iamonaco’s contract ends.  During this phase the Engagement Charter Implementation Committee is formed and made operational.  Once that Committee has been created they then implement the Charter and monitor community involvement initiatives.  Finally they are in place to refine the charter.

The difficulty with the turn out at the Aldershot Arena, which was low, is this.  Can the Public Involvement Coordinator entice the public to come out and learn more about the process and involve them in the development of a Charter.

And where in all this is Shaping Burlington?   Would one not expect them to make at least an effort to get people out to these meetings?  There was no “official” Shaping Burlington people other than former Mayor Walter Mulkewich who serves as an advisor to the group and was of course co-chair of the founding report.

It is too early to get a clear sense of where this initiative is going to go.  The first reach out to the community will have to improve if the city is to see something substantive come out of all this.

Will this Council really approve a document that has the community calling some of the shots at city hall?

There will be a document at some point in the process that will have to be taken to the Budget and Corporate Services Committee for discussion and debate.  It’s going to be hard to convince council that there is a strong community based desire for an Engagement Charter unless the turnout gets better than what we saw in Aldershot last week.  Did the Ward council member get a notice out to the people on their mailing list about the event and urge them to attend?  If they did – those mailing lists need a review.   If there is ever going to be a Community engagement Charter in Burlington, the Shaping Burlington folks are going to have to get out and beat some drums.

Back in 2010 when the Shape Burlington report was released the then city Council unanimously approved the document.  When the new Council set up shop in 2011 they chose to implement some of the Shape recommendations and moved immediately to create a Strategic Plan; one of the key Shape recommendations.

The Strategic Plan calls for a Citizen’s Engagement Charter – so we have two documents calling for a charter – but there isn’t yet a tidal wave of public interest.  These things do take time – so let us not throw our arms up in despair – not yet.  So, let us do a better job of getting the word out to the community.

Interested?  Christine Iamonaco is certainly interested in hearing from you.

Meeting dates.

Tuesday, January 17, 7 to 8 p.m., Mainway Recreation Centre, Auditorium, 4015 Mainway

Thursday, January 19, 7 – 8 p.m.; City Hall, 426 Brant Street Council Chambers (this session will be recorded for webcasting)

Thursday, January  19, 2 to 3 p.m.; City Hall, 426 Brant Street, Room 247

Thursday, January 26, 7 to 8 p.m.; Brant Hills Community Centre and Public Library, Nelson Room



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