Confusion continues over role of community engagement task force

By Spencer Sterritt
February 23, 2018 - 5:34pm

Erin Hemmins and Bill Manners trying to clarify points of contention about the community engagement task force with Nanaimo Council.City of Nanaimo

NANAIMO — During their second appearance before Nanaimo City Council in as many months, community engagement task force members had to defend their very existence.

“Supporting the task force in its ongoing work will allow the initiative to grow and improve as it progresses, which benefits citizens, leadership and the community as a whole,” task force member Bill Manners said Monday night.

He and Erin Hemmins were back in front of Council after their last presentation, on Jan. 8, ended with confused Council members asking the task force to re-collect and re-package all the work they'd done for one final report. At the time, they anticipated running three more public engagement sessions and believed they still had a significant amount of work to do.

The task force returned with the recommendation the City continue supporting the task force with an $18,000 budget and staff assistance to facilitate their three originally planned public engagement meetings. 

Since it was a presentation, there were no staff recommendations to guide Council, only the recommendations from the task force.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said it was a difficult position to be in since the task force recommendations “didn't jive” with what was previously said by City staff.

Hemmins replied saying while their original mandate from the fall of 2016 was vague, the task force was never told to go about their business any other way until it was already done.

“If the mandate was not clear to Council, at what point is it then Council's responsibility to come to us and say 'Hang on guys, you're not doing what we'd thought you would do.' At no point did we have that message, so we kept carrying on in the way we'd interpreted the motion.”

A point of contention once again was councillor attendance at the first public engagement meeting, held back in November 2017. Councillors previously said they either didn't receive invitations, felt it wouldn't be appropriate to attend or weren't sure what was being asked of them.

Hemmins said she and other task force members were confident they'd told Council their presence would be welcome.

“The success of a community engagement program rests on the willingness of residents and leaders to engage in meaningful conversation. It's not always a comfortable process but it is worthwhile,” she said.

While the entire task force seemed finished after the January meeting, there's now the possibility it could continue and finish the task they believe in.

Council voted in favour of having staff work with the task force to bring a budget for three more sessions and recommendations for Council to consider in their March 5 meeting.

Coun. Diane Brennan was the only one opposed.


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