Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
July 16, 2024
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Have Your Say

Chief Clerk details the rules of civic engagement
<p>Have Your Say (Image: thecounty.ca)</p>
Have Your Say (Image: thecounty.ca)

County residents have far more power than they realize. Respectful engagement and conversation will always win the day at Shire Hall.

The County’s Chief Clerk, Catalina Blumenberg, had a clear message to give earlier this month in a public talk at Highline Hall called, “Understanding Local Government: How Do Decisions get Made and How Do I Influence Them?”

Organized and hosted by the Wellington Community Association, about 30 people attended. In addition to the Clerk, South Marysburgh Councillor John Hirsch was on hand.

The focus was municipal operations and government structure. 

“This is a perfect time to engage in local democracy, and your input is powerful,” Ms. Blumenberg said. “People don’t realize how valued your opinions are to our Council. Please continue to track issues on our agenda, attend workshops such as this and just be engaged, because it leads to a better municipality for all of us.”

The Process

After discussing the roles of Council members, the Mayor, the CAO, staff, and various sub-committees and working groups, Ms. Blumenberg explained how approved motions become directives.

Motions and directives are translated into “action items,” which are posted in specialized software at the moment only accessible to Councillors, the Mayor, the CAO and staff. Staff update the action items as they collaborate with various parties and complete tasks. All parties to the software can monitor the progress staff is making on any particular item. Council is looking into making the program publicly accessible.

Direct engagement is the best way to ensure your voice is heard at Council.

If sent in considerate correspondence, your thoughts and opinions will inform the discussion around the horseshoe at Shire Hall.

Ms. Blumenberg noted there are multiple avenues for direct engagement. The most public option is a formal Deputation to Council. Any citizen or group who wishes can make a 10-minute presentation to Council on matters of municipal interest. A formal deputation requires registration five days in advance. But any member of the public can make a three-minute “comment from the audience” concerning items on the agenda at any Council or Committee-of-the-Whole meeting.

Providing input through the County’s “Have Your Say” portal is an electronic form option. One can also attend the public engagement sessions on infrastructure projects and submit written commentary.

Proactively, the Clerk detailed how one might become a member of an advisory board or subcommittee or even run one of the 14 councillor positions, or for Mayor.

Finally, the key part of our democracy: Ms. Blumenberg stressed how important it was for every County resident to vote.

Setting the Agenda

In terms of Council and Committee agendas, where a hot button topic might appear, more vigilant citizens will know that Clerk Blumenberg sets the agenda for Council or a Committee at least three working days in advance. 

Councillor Hirsch noted that keeping in touch is advantageous. He explained he and his colleagues have an idea of what staff report or motion might be in the hopper later that month, but even they are not always sure.

“It’s not guaranteed because things can change quickly but if you keep in touch with your Councillor, who knows what your issue is, they can contact you and you can prepare and be ready to make a deputation,” he said.

What about the budget and becoming involved in that process? The Councillor explained the municipality is improving its budget processes year over year to provide further engagement opportunities as well as assist residents in understanding fiduciary responsibilities, service levels, and external agency commitments. In 2024, there will be new and earlier opportunities for residents to raise concerns, ask questions and even offer solutions.

“It’s a very important week in December when we go line by line, department by department, and hear from each department director directly regarding each budget proposal,” Mr. Hirsch said. “I encourage you, with this new opportunity, to get involved earlier and make your comments and feelings known.”

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 21 edition of The Picton Gazette
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