Upping our game on public input in decisions

Burlington city hallResidents want to be involved in decision-making, not just on issues in their own back yard, but because you care deeply about our city and want to help make it better for the future. Public participation, in the words of a staff report, leverages “a significant pool of talent, creativity and energy at very low cost.”

This idea is a key driver behind the Burlington Community Engagement Charter – the notion that when we work together, and political decision-makers solicit involvement from residents – better decisions are made on behalf of the people we serve.

The Charter will be discussed at the Budget & Corporate Services committee of council March 26, 9:30am, City Hall, with a final vote at council April 8.

Some of the recommendations in the Charter include:

• using plain and clear language in public documents, and avoiding technical language and jargon

• informing residents how their input was considered and adopted or why it was not adopted

• treating residents in a way that is “respectful and welcoming” when they delegate (appear to speak) at committee or council

• ensuring early and widespread public notification on developments, policies, and city initiatives

The Charter notes that successful community engagement requires mutual respect of all participants, which is exemplified by listening to each other with an open mind; showing consideration and value for another person’s point of view; and valuing the role each person plays in engagement processes.

Special thanks to residents Steve Surya, Gloria Reid and John Searles, the city’s public involvement coordinator Christine Iamonaco, city staff, and all the residents who served on the charter team for their dedicated work to bring this forward.

My Take: I fully support the Charter as a commitment from the city, and with residents, to collaborate on decision-making. The city is making strides forward on clear language and early notification. We have some areas for improvement, particularly in respect , listening with an open mind, and ensuring delegations are treated with respect.

Too often I’ve heard residents dismissed as NIMBYs or Special Interest Groups when they try to engage council. At other times, council members have been argumentative with delegations, attempted to discredit or challenge residents rather than seeking to understand their views, or have used the question process to take shots at fellow colleagues.

Our aim must be to draw relevant information from delegations that will help us make better decisions. I’ll be looking for ways to up my game, and encourage all of us at City Hall to do so as part of our drive toward continuous improvement.

Your Take: How can I serve you better as your councilor, and help you be more involved in city decision-making? How can City Hall improve citizen engagement? Let me know by leaving a comment below or emailing me at

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

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