Why all the fuss at City Council about Big Music Fest?


Yesterday’s Kitchener City Council meeting featured lots of fuss about the Big Music Fest. Not the event itself but rather the “secrecy” of  planning it and the lack of public consultation.

I saw some of it first hand via Rogers TV and read about it in this morning’s Waterloo Region Record and on CBC’s local station. And this week’s Kitchener Post.

Here are my thoughts.

The secrecy concerns

There’s two separate “secrecy” concerns: 1) related to the planning; 2) when council was notified.

I understand the need for keeping the planning of this event confidential and believe it was appropriate. The promoter’s desire to keep things under wraps until they have signed their headline acts and secured funding is reasonable. There’s no event if those things don’t fall into place and the promoter wants to make a big splashy announcement.

I also recognize that it is staff’s role to try to secure this type of event and their desire to work with the organizer privately until the project is ready to be made public.

I can understand the Councillors who are upset about finding out about this major event in the newspaper. It appeared twice before some of them saw it: Mar. 14 & Mar. 16. At last night’s meeting, Council was told the word got out earlier than staff anticipated and normal advance notice was missed. It’s too bad that as soon as someone realized the word was out that Council was not informed. Definitely unfortunate but I don’t think it was a deliberate slight.

I do think that Councillor Paul Singh was brought into the process too late. Had he been brought in sooner, it may have helped address neighbour concerns.

For the rest of Council, I’m not sure it’s necessary that they be involved in planning or approving the event. Staff have a job to do and Council’s job is to give staff the direction they need to do their job without managing the project.

However no one likes to be taken by surprise especially such a big surprise. All of Council should have gotten a heads up that this event was in the planning process and Councillor Singh the opportunity to act on behalf of people living in his ward.

The need for public consultations

Were public consultations required before the site was selected or confirmed? No.

That answer may surprise some but it’s consistent with what I said about understanding the need for confidential planning.

But more importantly if the neighbours concerns had been anticipated and clearly addressed when the concert was made public, there would be fewer upset people and fewer people concerned about the impacts of parking, noise and garbage on their neighbourhood. Those concerns are both understandable and predictable and not details to be addressed once everything else about the concert has been planned. Leaving them unaddressed or not having enough details to share is going to cause concern when at the same time all the other details have been addressed. That’s not treating neighbours as stakeholders that need to be considered.

Neighbours must be treated as stakeholders about events and developments that are happening in their neighbourhoods.

Does that mean the city needs a big event planning transparency rules? Again, no.

If when the event was announced, have details ready to share about how the predictable concerns of neighbours will be addressed. In this case, having those details ready by the time of the lineup being revealed was a reasonable expectation by people living near the park. Having answers that gives them reassurance about how their lives were considered and the impact would be minimized and manageable would have gone a long way to avoiding concerns about the perceived secrecy.

Even if all the details weren’t shared at that time, having a public meeting arranged for a couple weeks later and ready to be announced would have been helpful and considered considerate of the neighbourhood stakeholders.

I’d like to think that if Councillor Singh had been able to be an advocate for people in his ward that process would  have happened.

The lessons to learn

So yes, the process needs to be improved with a better result but let’s be sure we’re fixing the real problem that neighbours concerns were not addressed during the confidential planning process. They should have been and when appropriate their should have been a proactive plan to work with neighbours to consider making those plans better.

We’ve seen examples of that same problem over the past few years, let’s learn that all stakeholders must be considered when planning major projects–even at the confidential stage–especially those of the citizens of Kitchener. And then when the project is ready to be discussed publicly, let’s involve interested citizens in the process moving forward.

Let’s learn from this experience and be ready to apply what we’ve learned moving forward.

NOTE: In this interests of transparency, I’ll share that my wife and I have bought tickets to the Saturday of the Fest. She’s a big Bryan Adams Fan. I’ll enjoy the day too but also look forward to seeing how everything operates from the inside.

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