The problem is not with the citizens - the problem is with the administration - ground zero is in the Clerk's Office.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

May 13th, 2019



City Hall is reviewing Council appointed Citizen Advisory Committees to determine the best way to use the knowledge and diversity that citizen advisory committees can bring to the city.

A number of Citizen Action Labs are going to be held to get feedback, input and sound discussion on the role citizens can play in the way the city is run.

Citizen Action Labs are where people work together in small, welcoming groups to engage, discuss, share and explore new ideas.

Three Citizen Action Labs are planned. Current and past citizen advisory committee members and members of the public are encouraged to attend. Registration is required as there is a maximum capacity of 80 people at each session.

Burlington has a number of Advisory Committees; some have provided exceptional citizen service while others have been close to a bust and were disbanded.

The best the Gazette has seen is the contribution made by the Heritage Advisory Committee. While delivering one of their reports to a council committee they got a close to standing ovation from the members of council.

They had a budget and made recommendations on what can be given in the way of grants to property owners who want to enhance the heritage aspects of their property. It was citizen participation at its very best.

Prior to the re-creation of the Heritage Advisory committee any mention of designating a property as historically significant had property owners howling. Much of the real estate community didn’t help when property owners were told that a historical designation would make it very hard to sell their property.

No one had informed or educated people in Burlington on just what a historical designation could do to the value of a property. We seemed to be unable to see and understand what Niagara on the Lake had done.

The Sustainability Advisory Committee was also one of the sterling examples of citizen participation. The problem with that committee was that it was too successful and there were too many development applications coming in – they were overwhelmed – but they continued to deliver.

Cut line

Waterfront Advisory didn’t last very long – leadership left a lot to be desired.

Then there was the Waterfront Advisory Committee that was put in place by former Mayor Cam Jackson and headed by a Burlington lawyer who thought he was writing legal briefs when he prepared reports. It was that committee that led to the sale of waterfront property to citizens who saw an opportunity to acquire land abutting their property – they pounced and the city lost forever the opportunity to create a continuous Waterfront Trail along the edge of the lake

That Advisory Committee got shut down.

It is going to be revived with a council member who will be sensitive to the input from the citizens and realize that her role is to liaise with the committee, city staff and council.

Sparsely attended Transit Advisory meeting - staff talent shows up - members appeared to have missed the bus.

Sparsely attended Transit Advisory meeting – staff talent shows up – members appeared to have missed the bus.

There was once a Transit Advisory Committee that a number of people in senior positions at city hall just didn’t want. It was also terribly run. People were throwing documents at each other on one occasion. The council liaison person had no intention of letting citizens say very much

Each of the Advisory committees is given a Clerk who is in place to guide and support the committee; some were not able to do that as effectively as was needed.

The biggest flaw in the Advisory Committee process was the city council member who was put in place as a liaison. Most of them felt that their job was to run the committee and several made sure that their view prevailed.

Our view is that the problem is with the Clerk’s Office. While the City Manager is the person responsible for ensuring the will of council is met the City Clerk is the senior administrative officer and is charged with building public trust and confidence in the city government.

The current Clerk has consistently taken a very tight, almost rigid approach to how the rules get interpreted.

ECoB – Engaged Citizens of Burlington wanted to use a graphic the city had created to promote the seven public debates they sponsored during the October election.

They were told the graphic could not be used.

Save the Planet - Goldring + organizer

Mayor \goldring had to hold his public meeting on a street corner.

During the 2014 election then Mayor Goldring wanted to hold an event celebrating WORLD Day and was told that he could not use the Gazebo in Spencer Smith Park because it was city property and there was an election taking place.

The Mayor was speaking for the city on an event of international importance. He ended up holding his event on a sidewalk outside a coffee shop.

During the same election the candidate for ward 2 rented space at the Art Gallery for her campaign kick-off event and was told that her election team could not wear their T-shirts in the hallways of the AGB.

There is a nit picking, niggling tone, attitude and approach to the way the Clerk’s office sees the role that citizens should play in the affairs of the city. This Clerk doesn’t have much room or time for the public. “How can we help” are words that do not cross very many lips in the Clerk’s office.

There are exceptions – three in particular understand they are there to serve.

The city now has a Mayor who takes a different view of public involvement. Hopefully the Office of the Clerk will manage to read the signals.

Salt with Pepper is the opinions, reflections,musings and observations of the Gazette Publisher

Related news stories:

Historical Advisory takes an evidence approach to decision making.

Citizen Action labs set up

Jim Young on Advisory Committees

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