On the proposed hiring of an engagement consultant, mayor Andrew Jakubeit in his engaging column (Herald, Aug. 12) said the following: “Engagement has many different forms and aims… from ensuring information is properly reaching residents, in getting feedback on initiatives to involving and collaborating with the public in the decision making process.”
Let us examine how each of these aspects is presently being accomplished, and how the use of an engagement consultant can make a contribution:
1. Ensuring information is properly reaching residents: Except where the city elects to withhold information from the residents through confidentiality agreements or other devious means to avoid embarrassment or to prevent residents’ input, this aspect is not the problem. The city could decide to give all residents the necessary information without an engagement consultant’s recommendation.
2. Getting feedback on initiatives: This is not the problem based on the recent surge in letters to the editor. The problem is that city council and staff pays no attention to the feedback. City council similar to a dyslexic has trouble comprehending the written word.
The mayor apparently has difficulty differentiating between majority and minority as has been shown in the case of the Skaha Lake Park controversy.
The engagement consultant, if city council would listen to him/her, will probably tell them to hold a binding referendum on land use items such as the divestiture of part of Skaha Lake Park. The mayor has been told this numerous times before. Forming a committee to study future park allocation and use, as the mayor did, is of little value after ignoring all the public input on the use of part of Skaha Lake park for a commercial waterslide. Closing the barn door after the horse has bolted is not productive.
3. Involving and collaborating with the public in the decision making process: Here I see a complete failure on the part of the city, and it is not solvable by adding additional staff. It is covered under listening skills noted above. It is interesting when the CAO spoke of staff workload he spoke of them working harder, not working smarter. How much of the work load at city hall results from the controversy created by the city’s current approach to input from the public?
Having analyzed the problem faced by the city on engagement with the public, I have found it to be listening skills and attitude on the part of civic administration, and negated the need for adding an engagement consultant to the payroll. Adding 10 engagement consultants will not solve this problem.