To the people of Fort St. John: it’s your job as engaged citizens to encourage all the candidates as our future leaders to represent a diverse voice, offer some fresh insight and viewpoints, and hold the mayor and council accountable and transparent. It’s your job as citizens of Fort St. John to elect a council that will encourage true public participation.
Know how to make the most of your vote. Once you have decided on who to vote for, realize that you do not have to fill six checks on your ballots. If you’re looking for new members to represent the public, consider weighting your votes with only the new candidates. Have you considered diversification and fresh insight in your voting strategy?
Leaders understand the importance of having a broad scope of viewpoints that will challenge the status quo and offer diversification that engages dialogue and discussion. I have sat at a few public meetings and have noticed very little discussion in the public realm. Reports are offered, motions are made and approved – with no discussion.
The 2017 schedule of renumeration show our three most senior council members holding the highest expenses ranging from $14,808.26 to $16,798.51 in 2017. These same three members also have the highest remuneration in comparison to mayor expenses totalling $28,250.78.
I understand the $368,000 increase in the dog park budget was approved when an opposing council member was away on holidays. Mayor Lori Ackerman was quoted saying that the dog park development went up from $500,000 to $868,000 as it reflects the needs and wants of the residents. I would say this is an open invite for the mayor and council to take a better look at the needs and wants of the residents. Do lower taxes, better public input for budget, better public input for allocation of funds to non-profits fit into the same category as the dog park? You, the citizens of Fort St. John are electing the council members that will hold this accountability to task.
In 2017, according to the city’ annual report, 1% of the city budget was spent on public health and welfare. I ask the question to the citizens of Fort St. John and candidates: Does our city need to have better policy for poverty, harm reduction, preventative support, truth and reconciliation?
Realistically, if I had a choice between increasing a park budget by $368,000, or sharing those extra resources to restorative justice, poverty reduction, social housing initiatives, etc., I would feel better to offer an opportunity for additional grants or services that support the social determinants of a healthy community.
Economic diversification is another key motivator. Responsible economic development builds stable communities. Partnering good relationships with corporate citizens is better for everyone. Why did the OGC and national petroleum resource companies build outside of city limits?
Public participation is municipal government showing up without an agenda. Don’t deliver the people a baked cake and ask them to decorate it. Let them decide what it is they want to create. We have a culture showing poor civic engagement in the community. Come out and meet people where they are at. I spent the summer working at pop-up booths listening to different demographics. It was a great success and I heard a lot of important dialogues.
Understand what the IAP2 spectrum of public participation (yes, you can google that). Municipalities across the province are training their leaders and staff or hiring consultants involved in true public participation engagement.
By the way — good call building a dog park in an election year. I think there are over 800 registered dog owners in the city. Has public participation gone to the dogs?
Edwina Nearhood is a life-long resident of Fort St. John, with 30 years experience in the appraisal industry.
Key dates for voters:
Oct. 10 — Required advance voting opportunity, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Fort St. John Legion
Oct. 17 — Required advance voting opportunity, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Fort St. John Legion
Oct. 18 — Special Voting Opportunities at Senior Care Facilities and Hospital
Oct. 20 — General voting day; 8 am to 8 pm at the Fort St. John Legion