Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Getting better, more broadly
representative public input

During a City Council’s term, aside from a referendum or sophisticated, costly polling, only its election is an expression of the collective, tens of thousands of votes across all areas and demographics.
I risk splitting hairs, it may be just semantics but when Councillors hear folks at public hearing they're probably not hearing an expression of “the public.” It’s good in my view Council is mandated to hear citizens at public hearing and good that citizens make the effort to appear but without a way to analyze a usually small sampling, speakers at public hearing probably don’t represent the views of the broader public. Important to add to that, again outside of a binding referendum, it falls to Council to make decisions for the longer term even if those decisions are at odds with current public opinion. Otherwise we could have government by algorithm.
Getting better, more broadly representative public input should be an ongoing goal nevertheless. Initiatives in Vancouver and in Portland may offer ideas we could modify here in Nanaimo.
Vancouver, frustrated with a fractious and polarized east side neighbourhood enacted the Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly tasked with putting forward recommendations for the neighbourhood’s Community Plan. From the website :
Invitation letters were mailed to 19,000 area residents, property owners, and business owners in late June 2014. In addition, hundreds of invitations were handed out at street corners, community centers, service centers and other key locations in Grandview-Woodland.
The 48 members of the Assembly were selected through a blind draw from the pool of over 500 volunteers. The blind selection process ensured an equal number of men and women; representative numbers of members from six neighbourhood zones; representative numbers of members from each age cohort; and, representative numbers of members who rent their home, own their home or reside in a co-op. Volunteers were asked to identify if they are Aboriginal to make certain we have representation from this community. In addition, two seats were reserved for business owners in Grandview-Woodland and one seat was reserved for a property owner who does not reside in the neighbourhood study area.
It's time for a new Downtown Plan here in Nanaimo IMO and this is the approach I’d hope we’d take.
The other initiative is Portland’s innovative way of working with neighbourhood associations. The City will officially recognize a neighbourhood association and allow it to access the resources of Office of Neighborhood Involvement if it complies with its requirements.
The rules aim to ensure a more representative body, clarifies membership is open to anyone living in or operating a business in the neighbourhood, ensures transparency, inclusion, non-discrimination and makes clear an association would not be allowed to charge a fee for membership.
Without this sort of guide we have to assume that currently Nanaimo neighbourhood associations—some more than others—though they’re composed of engaged well-meaning citizens, represent the views of a relatively few individuals not the broad view of the neighbourhood.

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