Monday’s meeting briefly came to a halt soon after it started, when budget chair Coun. Scott Davey told the audience that councillors would merely listen to delegates, rather than ask questions. The intent was to prevent the meeting from becoming exceedingly lengthy, but the move prompted a strong reaction.
An angry James Howe argued he and other delegates weren’t told that councillors wouldn’t be allowed to ask them questions following their presentations.
When Howe refused to leave the podium, Davey called a five-minute recess to clear the air.
That’s how The Record covered me standing up for public engagement at Kitchener city council last night. I’d like to share my side of the story. I wouldn’t have described myself as angry. Unhappy yes or maybe even upset but not at the point of anger.
Standing up for public engagement
After the announcement that questions would not be allowed, it became clear that some Councillors were surprised and others thought there should be some room for questions.
I was shocked that the public input session on the 2014 budget was to be input only without any engagement. There was no prior notice given to myself and 5 people scheduled to speak that there would not be questions. If that was intended to be the process, advance notice would be a minimum expectation but really should have been shared upfront.
As Council discussed the announcement, I took the podium and patiently waited for them to conclude. What citizens in the gallery heard was that at last year’s public input session on the budget, too much time was spent on the early delegates because of questions and discussion between Council members. That resulted in some scheduled delegations leaving without speaking due to the longer than expected wait. At the public input session for the casino, no questions were allowed of delegates. Apparently council had decided to follow that example for this year’s budget session.
I disagreed at the time with no questions at the casino session but at least in that case it was known from when the meeting was announced. The subject matter was also very different.
When council finished its discussion, I took the opportunity to disagree with the announcement. I shared that delegations had not been informed of this change in format from standard rules when presenting to council. I noted that there were 20+ delegations at last month’s budget consultations by the Region of Waterloo (and I’ll add here more Councillors) and questions were still allowed. I was asked repeatedly to leave the podium because I didn’t have permission to speak and eventually had my mike turned off. Finally, a five minute recess was called and I knowing I had made my point.
When the meeting resumed, Council had another discussion on whether to allow questions if so how much time to give to them. They eventually decided to allow one question per Councillor of each delegation without getting into debate or discussing amongst themselves.
I stood up for public engagement because:
- The surprise factor.
- Questions are important. While questions should not be expected by delegations, they do go a long way to demonstrating that you were heard and someone was interested what you have to say to learn more.
- One or more of the other speakers were from the Victoria Park area and speaking about public works traffic in their neighbourhood. While the issue had budget implications, normally these citizens would have presented at a standing committee or Council meeting with questions. It turned out that one of those speakers had wanted to speak at committee and was asked to speak at the budget input session instead.
- The real problem was how Council behaved at meetings that often sends them overtime. They’ve even had a meeting on using meeting time more efficiently that ran four hours. So not allowing questions was really a way to manage Council at the expense of citizens presenting to them.
The justification for no questions could easily be applied to every meeting. That’s expediency trumping public engagement and not how democracy is to work at the level of government with the greatest impact upon our day to day lives.
What did I say?
What follows is what I said when my turn came. And yes, I did get one question.
Taking a look at how to increase revenues outside of property tax is a great idea. Tonight I’ll address two of the proposals before Council as part of the 2014 budget.
Don’t enhance advertising at the expense of the city’s programs and services
I’m confident that the city possesses untapped potential to increase advertising revenues. Proven sources such as at the Auditorium and ads in Leisure should be pursued but I don’t believe that the context is in place to look for up to another $30,000 this year. Rather, let’s take the time to be sure it’s done right.
Take for instance the most recent Leisure guide. By looking at the cover, can you easily tell it apart from the KW Coupon Clipper? Does it quickly identify itself as a City of Kitchener publication? Does flipping open the front cover help?
I expect the answer is no—if not for you—for many Kitchener residents.
So is the advertising revenue generated worth losing the City branding on its flagship publication to promote its recreation and leisure programs and services?
I suggest it doesn’t come close.
Wouldn’t it be better to use the prime real estate on the front cover to market one or more of the city’s programs?
On the inside, there are plenty of attractive ads trying to grab people’s attention. Nearly all of them are from external organizations, while offerings at city facilities are predominately text heavy lists.
How about instead of making selling ads the priority, the city enhanced the marketing of its own program and services? It’d attract more participants AND generate more revenue–likely with little impact on costs since most are the same. This increased revenue could help prevent or moderate increases. Maybe even reduce fees or increase subsidies.
The same principles apply to the other advertising proposals:
- Keep the city’s core responsibilities as the top priority.
- Have the city use advertising opportunities to enhance the marketing of its own programs and services—even those that don’t generate revenue but help achieve other objectives toward building a healthy Kitchener. The city should be one of its own top advertisers yet leave enough attractive opportunities for other advertisers.
Until how to do so has been determined, avoid supporting specific new advertising options especially if combined with definite expectations for income.
Don’t use parking fees at Aud to pay for bylaw enforcement
On the proposed use of parking fees at the Auditorium to pay for bylaw enforcement of parking on residential streets, I agree with Rangers president Craig Campbell that the city is already receiving income from tickets—even if one isn’t directly tied to the other.
Contrary to information in the proposal, the parking fees were not always to be used for a variety of purposes related to parking and enforcement. As presented by the Rangers to the neighbours in February 2012 and here in March 2012, those funds were to be used by them to repay a loan to pay for 100 new parking spaces at the facility.
While that proposal stalled due to storm water planning at the property, the best use of the funds would be towards reducing offsite parking.
Using the funds to pay to continue the current level of enforcement sends the signal that little change can be expected to the number of vehicles parking in neighbourhoods around the Aud and the related problems. It’d be better to use them to promote and enhance the use of the free GRT ride program or provide shuttles from a downtown parking garage, the transit terminal and the iXpress stop at Ottawa and Charles.
Want to increase Auditorium parking revenues AND reduce on street parking? Make all lots at the Aud paid parking except for vehicles with 4 or more people. Doing so also effectively increases the number of car pool spots. Start the fee at something modest like $5 and over time move to be on par with parking at the Centre in the Square.
Enough revenue should be dedicated to working to reduce residential street parking to pre-expansion levels, or preferably, even lower.