By Stephen Vance, Editor
It was somewhat shocking to see such a sparse crowd at the public input session for the current municipal branding initiative held at Meaford Hall on June 2nd.
Perhaps more shocking that the session held the following evening in Woodford attracted just one participant who was also one that had attended the workshop the day before.
Some suggested that the municipality did a poor job of promoting the open meetings, and as a result very few people were aware, so attendance was low.
I suppose that is one possibility but I doubt that is the only reason.
The Municipality of Meaford has asked a lot of it’s residents in recent months.
The Meaford Economic Development Strategy (MEDS) engaged more than 25 residents who logged numerous volunteer hours over several months on the five task forces that were part of that initiative.
The Operational Review also enlisted the assistance of a similar number of locals who took time from their busy days to meet with and interview each and every employee of the municipality, conduct research, and write reports that included in excess of 120 recommendations of how to streamline and improve the operation of the municipality.
There is also the current task force that has dedicated itself to taking a long hard look at the Community and Cultural Services (which includes Meaford Hall) within the municipality. That task force has also been meeting for several months and the release of it’s findings is still a couple of weeks away.
It is perhaps interesting to note that one often finds the same faces volunteering their time to work on these community projects. I suspect that this is in part due to the fact that these meetings and task forces aren’t always held at the most convenient times for those who have day jobs, and as a result a segment of our population is excluded from participating right off the bat.
More interesting is the criticism that is often levelled against such initiatives that they are conducted by some sort of exclusive club.
Given that each of the previously mentioned task forces openly and publicly sought applicants from the community, and given that there was indeed a public call-out for participants in the branding workshops, that criticism is certainly without merit.
So too is the suggestion that nobody was aware of this most recent public workshop. Media outlets like Bayshore Broadcasting and The Meaford Independent reported that these workshops would take place, and that anyone from the public was invited to attend and offer their input.
In fact in the two articles relating to the branding workshop that ran in The Independent – one an editorial, and the other an information article – received more than 500 combined views. So to say that at least some people weren’t aware is incorrect.
What might be more accurate is that people just don’t care. That or the propensity of members of this community to give of themselves for the greater good has been exhausted and needs some time to replenish itself.
Either way, I think that the municipality should take a good long look at the lack of participation in this most recent initiative and ask themselves why they couldn’t attract a crowd.
It isn’t enough to solicit public input. You need to make people feel that their input will be valued, and you need to find constructive, convenient, and effective ways for people to share that input.
The municipality also needs to ensure that it doesn’t betray the trust of the community. A small but noteworthy example of this can be found in the development of the new municipal website.
The municipality created much fanfare by requesting the participation of a large number of “community stakeholders” in the early stages of the development of the new website.
In fact there was a series of meetings when those who attended were presented with four options for the design, layout and colour scheme. Everyone was then asked to fill out a form indicating which option they liked the best. The indication at the time was that the most popular option would be the one that would become the new municipal website, yet when the municipality unveiled the approved design recently, it looked nothing like any of the four options that residents were asked to select from.
So, all those people took time away from home, jobs, or other activities only to discover that in the end, their opinion didn’t matter. Tsk tsk.
We can’t always be asking our residents to give up hours upon hours over many months and not expect for them at some point to simply say “I’ve done my part, I need a break.”
We also can’t expect anyone to show up to any input session if they have begun to feel that the request for their input is merely to mollify residents and have them believe that their opinion matters.