West St. Paul Mayor Cheryl Christian ran on a promise to let the public in on local decision making and, in the four months since the 2018 election, she, along with council and administration have worked hard to deliver.
Members of council, administration and staff are keeping residents informed, and consulting and involving residents in decision making more than ever before. They have identified public engagement as a top priority.
"We promised residents they would have a voice in the decision making and we’re keeping our promise,” Christian said.
To achieve the goal of having the public truly engaged, council and administration are creating new opportunities for residents to participate in decision making on everything from policies to programs and services in the municipality. By engaging the public, it helps the RM understand community needs and expectations and be able to respond to them.
Chief Administrative Officer Brent Olynyk said the new council was elected to make changes and administrative staff are working together with them to achieve that.
"It’s a team effort and all members of administration are on board and supportive of the mayor’s and council’s focus on community engagement,” Olynyk said.
"People will notice more opportunities to take part in decision making in the RM and more opportunities to ask questions and learn more about projects, programs and services in the RM.”
There are several significant changes that have been made in recent months, and Christian said they’re all aimed at making it easier for residents to have their say.
"We want to keep our residents informed with frequent updates. We want to encourage community members to share their concerns and ideas with council and we want to provide feedback on how their input is considered in our decision making,” Christian said.
Email Notifications for Every Meeting
Council recently approved a number of changes to its Procedural By-Law to provide more information for residents about upcoming meetings and encourage more residents to attend meetings. Beginning in February, residents who subscribe to the RM e-mail blasts will be sent a notice before every council meeting.
New time for Council meetings
Council also approved new meeting times to be more accessible.
"We’ve changed the start time of our regular council and planning meetings from 5pm to 6pm. During the election, many residents shared with us that they would love to attend our meetings and learn more about the issues in our community but the time conflicted with their work responsibilities,” Christian said.
"We listened to our residents, we changed the meeting time and we encourage our community members to attend.”
Residents will be able to ask questions at the end of the regular council meeting on the 4th Thursday of each month and the newly created committee of the whole meeting on the 2nd Tuesday of each month.
"Council meetings are one of the few opportunities where all of council is together. If our residents attend a council meeting and have questions for council at the end of that meeting, we want to encourage that community involvement,” Christian said.
Community Information Meetings and Open Houses
Council has encouraged developers to share more information about upcoming and proposed development plans with residents
by hosting Community Information Meetings. Developers so far have organized three community meetings to share development plans with residents since the October election. The RM has also hosted one Open House to share information about the proposed Rossmore/Addis wastewater project. More than 100 residents attended.
"We have been very pleased to see so many community members attend these events, ask questions and share their ideas. West St. Paul is experiencing a lot of growth, development and infrastructure improvements. We value community input as an essential part of informed decision making in all these areas,” Christian said.
Coffee with Council
Beginning on March 2, all members of council will host a Coffee with your Council event on the first Saturday of every month in the Sunova Centre boardroom from 9am to 11am.
Mayor Christian began hosting coffee events with residents in her ward during the previous term when she was a councillor. The other members of council like the idea and all will now join in for coffee and conversation with residents.
"Getting together with residents in an informal setting where they can ask questions of all council members and be more involved in their municipality is a good thing,” said Coun. Stan Parag.
"I like the idea and I think residents will be appreciative of the fact that council is taking time to chat and hear what they have to say.”
There will be more positive changes coming as council moves into developing a Strategic Plan that will define the municipality’s vision and align all decision making with the plan. Community engagement, including surveys and focus groups, will play a key role in developing the Strategic Plan. Council will also ramp up its social media presence and communicate more frequently with community newsletters.
"All of these changes from council, fully supported by our administration and staff, show just how committed we are to making changes and how much we truly value community input,” Christian said.