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Nanaimo council looks at expanding public engagement

Nanaimo city councillors will consider new ways to have conversations with citizens.

The city is looking at holding public forums in more informal settings around Nanaimo next year. Coun. Jim Kipp presented his idea at Monday’s meeting at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre and council unanimously agreed to ask for a staff report on implementation of the plan.

“The intent of this initiative is to further the community engagement and public conversation,” said Kipp.

The meetings would be regularly scheduled and open-topic, and Kipp suggested they would lead to greater transparency, public involvement and collaborative decision-making. He noted that question period is held at the end of council meetings, sometimes after decisions have already been made on agenda items. Kipp said the additional meetings would allow people to address councillors without the same public-speaking component as a council meeting.

Coun. Gord Fuller supported the idea and said it was something he had proposed during the last municipal election campaign.

“The e-town hall thing is OK, but something like this would be far better because it would be that face-to-face engagement,” Fuller said.

He added that he would like to see one of the meetings be held on Protection Island.

Kipp suggested the forums be held every three months, and said each one could be attended by three councillors on a rotating basis. He suggested that the initiative be reviewed and evaluated after four sessions.

Coun. Bill Bestwick spoke against the idea, saying his preference is for citizens to call him up to talk over a cup of coffee. He predicted that Kipp’s proposed meetings will become a greater commitment than intended.

“I can imagine everybody is going to all of them, and not on a rotating basis of three, because nobody’s going to be told they can’t go,” Bestwick said. “So now we add four more meetings with staff and agendas and recorded minutes and being careful about what we say in an informal environment.”

Kipp would like to see the first session in January. Council will await a staff report on the potential format of the meetings, schedule and locations before it decides whether to proceed.

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