Mission council is looking to start regular discussions with the public through “Community Conversations,” a similar format to the traditional town hall.
Mayor Paul Horn has been having discussions with city staff about how to engage with the public more often, and on July 19, talked to councillors about their thoughts on holding virtual and/or in-person talks with the public on a consistent basis.
“People on this council know, this is an area in which I’m very passionate and have spent some time in study. And I think there’s a lot more we could be doing,” Horn said. One of Horn’s election promises was to create more dialogue between municipal hall and residents.
The city used to hold regular town halls, sometimes on specific topics, in other times, holding a broad forum for discussions with councillors.
“We’ve done some in the past, and I think they’ve generally been very well received by the community,” said Mission Chief Administration Officer Mike Younie. “In some cases, we’ve gone to specific neighborhoods in the community, Steelhead, for example, or Stave Falls or Hatzic, and talked about specific issues.”
But previous town halls were not always well attended, according to Horn, with people only opting to show up when controversy arose, leading to “reactive planning.”
Staff suggested more discussions in council chambers (similar to public hearings) with a moderator, and more informal meetings at other locations around the city.
These discussions could be held in regard to specific topics, or left open to the speakers. Staff would take notes, and video would be uploaded to the city website.
Other potential forms and themes for future conversations were discussed.
Coun. Ken Herar said that the ideal forum would be outside of the council chambers to make people more comfortable. He said that town halls should be held quarterly, recommending people pre-register to submit questions, allowing for a detailed response.
“It will give residents a sense of trust, by us going to them, knowing that we’re listening and their voices are being heard, and we’re not members of some special society,” he said.
Coun. Danny Plecas and Coun. Carol Hamilton both said the conversations would be a good opportunity to not just listen, but proactively share vision, plans and information about ongoing projects.
Plecas said it’s crucial for the community to understand the costs associated around continued growth.
“We need to get that message out … Because we’re going through massive change,” he said.
Coun. Mark Davies said the city needs to account for how the public consumes information, and much has changed from the traditional town hall of 30 years ago. He said that any meeting needs to be accommodating to people’s schedules.
“These town hall meetings will probably be a little uncomfortable and unfamiliar to people on council. You know, we’re not used to this, and I think that’s a good thing. It’ll help us understand some of the challenges,” Davies said.
The conversations are just a start, and will be done in addition to how the city already operates, Horn said, adding their approach and format will change as they learn.
Councillors will need to have “conversations about the conversations, what worked and what didn’t,” he said. “It’s very important for us to sit down and have conversations with people, as opposed to always making them stand up to microphones.
“It’s just too intimidating for a lot of people. But if you can sit down across the table, and have a cup of tea, you can really encourage people to share a lot more easily.”