Citizen Action Monitor

Windsor residents not sufficiently involved in City decision making and planning processes

Two recent public meetings fall far short of involving public in “consultation, input and feedback.”

No 1460 Posted by fw, September 27, 2015

On Thursday evening my partner Helga and I attended back-to-back public meetings for residents of our Ward. According to the invitation, the opening 60-minutes would  call for resident “opinions and feedback” on Windsor’s 20-Year Strategic Vision. The follow-up 105-minute gathering was scheduled for the Ward’s annual General Meeting.

Our disappointment with both meetings prompted us to fire off individual feedback emails to the mayor and councillors, and, as well, to the editor of the Windsor Star. The self-explanatory letters are copied below.

Speaking of meetings, at the bottom of this post is a clip from the John Cleese classic, Meetings, Bloody Meetings

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Helga’s Letter

At the September 24th public meeting on Windsor’s draft 20-year strategic vision I was disappointed both with the process for obtaining residents’ input and with the uninspiring draft vision: more jobs, remaking Windsor’s image and population growth.

I came expecting to engage in a group process. Instead, residents could fill out a survey questionnaire. Despite the dialogue boxes provided, the focused structure of the survey shaped the type of comment being elicited.

When I read the draft Strategic Vision document, it failed to engage me. The document was clearly written by and for Council and City administration.  It states that the Strategic Vision will ‘serve as a cornerstone for Council and City administration when making decisions with respect to programs, services and infrastructure.” Residents are relegated to an “avenue for input” to the Strategic Vision.

However, there seems little room for residents’ input. The document includes, at Appendix B, a list of current and Councillors’ proposed projects which will help to achieve the 20-year vision.  In addition to the 95 other existing or planned initiatives, studies and programs and 55 new initiatives proposed by the current Councillors, there are 27 other city plans mentioned, which dovetail into the Vision.  How can residents buy into the vision, when it would take a herculean effort to assemble it?

And how can the attendees at the meeting, which were mainly seniors, represent our diverse community? Contrast this with Guelph’s 2007 community-driven strategic plan, which used an inclusive consultation approach consisting of focus groups, telephone interviews, a youth challenge and survey questions translated into many languages. The Guelph plan acknowledges that everyone in the community will have a role to play in achieving it. To replicate the same passion that Guelphites have for their city, Windsor should recognize the importance of engaging and valuing the input of its residents.

My Letter

Two recent back-to-back Windsor Ward 1 public meetings leave room for improvement.

The flyer stated that the first meeting would invite “opinions and feedback on the 20-Year Strategic Vision.” I arrived expecting a short opening welcome and outline of the meeting’s purpose, agenda, and format. Unfortunately, no one informed me that I was really there to complete a multi-page survey tool. You know the kind — read the statements, checkmark your response, and shoehorn any comments into small boxes.

The flyer omitted two important details. First, that the survey tool was also available online for downloading, completion, and return. Second, that there would be no collective discussion of the vision document. Had I known this in advance, I would have skipped this meeting, opting instead for the online approach.

As for the Vision document, disappointingly corporate-centric, it illustrated that Windsor really does need to work on promoting more robust resident inclusivity in decision making. Visits to Guelph’s* and Vancouver’s** municipal websites provide stunning best-practice examples of resident-centric planning and service design.

The second event of the evening, a once-yearly Ward 1 General Meeting, was equally disappointing. Following a brief introduction, mostly grey-haired attendees were turned loose to line up to meet with any of a large number of city managers for a brief Q & A. Participants had an hour to visit with as many or as few of these people as they chose.

As the noise level escalated, I left, frustrated that this process, too, left me with no chance to collectively share and compare City service experiences with my Ward 1 neighbours.

The meetings had the unintended consequences of giving the impression that Council undervalued resident contributions to City vision-building and decision-making processes. Perhaps this perception accounts for the 37 percent voter turnout in 2014, reflecting mutually low expectations.

* Guelph: Strategic Plan 07 and Beyond

** Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force

Speaking of meetings, funny you should say that….

Meetings Bloody Meetings (classic) – John Cleese (2:39 min)

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This entry was posted on September 27, 2015 by in personal narratives, Windsor Ontario and tagged .
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