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Council requests options for citizen engagement

Masha Scheele

Council is looking for more active engagement with the public on the upcoming 2020 budget. 

At the standing committee meeting on Aug. 27, council asked administration to come back with  a report on what a town hall entails, as well as other potential engagement strategies.

An established public participation policy created in 2018 states how council can involve the public in decision-making.

Council discussed the definition of a town hall, who would be responsible for answering questions by the public, and what would go into organizing one.

By definition, a town hall refers to an event at which an official or politician answers questions from members of the public.

This can be broadened in order for residents to bring forth concerns that are not necessarily in the form of a question, stated Emily Olsen, strategic services manager.

The Town of Hinton hasn’t held a town hall since 2011 as they’ve moved more towards conversation based engagement sessions with the public such as an open house, which can be done in smaller groups or with one-on-one conversations where the public is free to come in and out.

A town hall would be a more formal presentation with a set time, explained Olsen.

During that last town hall, only one issue regarding the municipalities practice of putting fluoride in the water was addressed and topic experts on both sides of the issue were brought out to answer questions by concerned citizens.

Each town hall can be structured differently, and councilors could be the ones answering questions regarding the budget and strategic planning. 

At the Aug. 27 standing committee meeting, Coun. Dewly Nelson stated that he would like the town hall to be about taking in the concerns of the public prior to their own strategic planning session.

In the past few years, the town also implemented the citizens budget tool online as a means to encourage public input.

“Last year, we doubled our numbers from the budget tool because the communication pieces, the whiteboard videos around it,” Olsen said about the response they’ve received.

Olsen will bring forth a report to the standing committee meeting on Sept. 10 with options of public communication strategies that council can use during this year’s budget process.

“I had some conversations with engagement experts around building my report to figure out how you add the most amount of value to this opportunity so that it could be replicated for other items that come forward. To me, I’m looking down the line at rec centre conversations and that sort of thing. How do we set this up in the best way possible so we can use it for other things too. People get familiar with the process,” said Olsen.