City plans and public consultations
City council is revisiting its brand-new plans to improve garbage management. This revisit comes thanks to pretty strong taxpayer push-back. Didn’t the experts see these objections coming? And why didn’t the administration appreciate the need to better explain these changes? Push-back was also physical: garbage dumped in parks and public places, on rural roads and ditches, in Gatineau Park and the farmland surrounding our city.
Citizens saw this coming -- and those who didn’t, read about it in the Bulletin’s letters pages! Virtually every edition since the announcement contains letters warning of exactly what is now happening. Citizens saw this, but administrators and urban planners were caught flat-footed? The whole world is grappling with excessive waste, single-use plastics, “fat bergs” in the sewers, and so on.
Had city administrators taken seriously the letters of citizens, they might have saved themselves not only embarrassment but the expense and confusion of re-assessing the measures and re-engineering schedules and fees. All of this has been evident in the Bulletin’s weekly three-plus pages of letters. (Which include opinions on the new library and Parc des cèdres pavilion re-builds.)
This is not to criticize the planners as much as to point out that there are valuable sources of urban expertise at everyone’s fingertips, in the pages of local media. That’s rocket science only to those who don’t read.
Many folks assume all this has been available online – the city’s own website must have attracted comments, and generalized social platforms certainly contained messages, buried, but similar to those in the Bulletin’s letters. The advantage of the Bulletin’s community messaging is that it is public and universal. Everyone sees them – or can – since the Bulletin reaches virtually every kitchen table in town. Pages of letters are hard to ignore, yet they were ignored by administrators. Ordinary citizens saw them: they replied and added their own! This is valuable feedback for decision-makers which the deciders risk missing by an over-dependence on their self-imposed blinkers (social media platforms).
Let’s ask council and civil servants to pay attention to what real, identified, citizens are saying about city decisions. This can only lead to wider knowledge and understanding of the priorities and needs of real taxpayers, not trolls, robots, or nasty commentators from Uganda, Utah, and Ulan Bator. Isn’t local logical?
Finally, here’s a radical, but, I hope, intelligent extension of all this: why doesn’t the city partner with the Bulletin (for example) to both get its own messages out, plainly, clearly, and delivered to every residence, but also to attract and create a hard-copy, preservable record of public reactions? This partnership wouldn’t compromise the Bulletin’s news-gathering objectivity. It would plug administrators into one real part of community life -- community media. Utilizing partners is ubiquitous in municipal government and this would bring public consultations into every home. These letter pages constitute a continual public consultation.
Meanwhile, keep reading your community newspaper, folks, and its pages of letters. You’ll obviously be ahead of the curve.