Kings working group could refine principles for citizen engagement

Kirk Starratt
Published on August 22, 2014

Warren Peck says he’s glad that principles for community participation developed by citizens during the Kings 2050 regional planning project have over-arching value to municipal decision-making. File photo

Kings County citizens are telling council they want a say in decision-making . A working group could soon be established to build on principles for community participation.

Kings County councillors voted at the July committee of the whole session to recommend approval for the chief administrative officer (CAO) to form a citizen engagement working group made up of councillors, interested residents, staff and other stakeholders. As amended by Coun. Kim MacQuarrie, the purpose would be to build on and finalize principles for citizen engagement.

The group would work with a document called Principles for Community Participation In Kings 2050. Citizens who became engaged in municipal governance through the large-scale wind turbine debate in 2011 and 2012 developed these principles to help guide their engagement in the Kings 2050 regional planning process.

Warren Peck of Black River Road is one of 19 citizens who helped develop the principles. He said they took an invite from planner Ian Watson to get involved in Kings 2050 “very seriously.” Although they first got involved in municipal politics through the wind turbine matter, Peck said many of the citizens have been attending council meetings “on a continual basis in a proactive way” ever since.

“The best democracy you can have is participatory democracy,” Peck said, pointing out that he’s glad it’s being entertained by council and staff that the principles have “greater over-arching value” to municipal decision making.

“We feel these principles aren’t to confuse or make things difficult,” Peck said. “It’s for the betterment of government in Kings County.”

Planning Manager Ben Sivak it has become clear that the citizen’s group wants the principles to become larger than the Kings 2050 process.

“The citizens don’t want this adopted and put on the shelf,” Sivak said.

CAO Tom MacEwan said, “everyone is working toward the same thing, but the question is where to start.”

“It’s not only setting up a system for meaningful citizen engagement,” MacEwan said. “It also provides principles for council decision-making.”

Coun. Emma Van Rooyen said that for the principles to have foundation, policy must be put in place. The principles could be part of a wider citizen engagement policy or strategy. She believes the next step should be to reach out to citizens not involved in creating the principles to gather more input.

Coun. Pauline Raven said council has to “formally accept that these principles are excellent” and put a working group together. She said the principles could be amended along the way as improvements become apparent and “what we’re really looking at is a change in culture.”

“Let’s celebrate the fact these have been brought to us by our own citizens for free and they’re very good,” Raven said.

Following the vote, Coun. Patricia Bishop moved to adopt the principles as they are. The working group could then refine the document. Although MacEwan said adopting the principles would have no binding effect on council, he doesn’t see the value in doing so if a working group is to be established. The motion was defeated.

The citizens group submitted the principles to the municipality in August 2012. In March, the committee of the whole voted to direct the chief administrator to revisit the principles with participants as they relate to planning and general policy of citizen engagement. The chief administrator was tasked with bringing a recommendation to council.