Council Comment: Balancing community engagement with governance a challenge

Web Lead

Karen Unruh is in her first term as a Creston councillor.

Where does time go? It is hard to believe that we are well into our second year as a council and nothing has slowed down — especially time. Fitting our council commitments into our personal lives can sometimes be a challenge.

Meetings are part of my job, working for you. The Creston Valley has many organizations and committees with active volunteers, and I am proud to serve in the community with them. These people work relentlessly and often go unrecognized. I was pleased to read about 13 of our community members who received the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award in March and two who received the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers this month. There are many more volunteers that awards could be given to and I hope you enjoyed Volunteer Appreciation Week in April. I had the privilege of being invited to and attending the firefighters’ awards banquet. They are a group of individuals who put others before themselves throughout the year — when the pager goes, their focus changes immediately.

Balancing community engagement with our responsibility to govern can be a challenge especially in a small community with diverging interests. We need to ensure that we have a balance between meaningful community engagement and good governance by moving forward with consultation and public meetings. Governing bodies may hesitate to make contentious decisions for fear of losing popularity. Being sensitive to public scrutiny may make us overly responsive to criticism. If anxiety of disappointing others takes precedent over implementing a long-term vision, a council may become hesitant to make a hard decision and become immobilized. We need to be able to take legitimate community needs and concerns into account before decisions are finalized, without being held hostage by dissenting voices. We have projects in our strategic priorities that need your input. Your phone calls and letters are welcome, but we also need you to come out and take part in public consultation and information processes. Budget discussions are not easy and setting our budget and priorities come from what we hear from you, as well as operational needs.

This year, our first priority is the Official Community Plan (OCP). We are excited to be working with Kootenay Employment Services (KES) for public engagement and Alison Mewett and William Marsh as independent contractors for the policy development and document production, as well as 12 community members from various organizations. Coun. Jim Elford and I are the council representatives. We hope to see you at the public consultations and meetings. Ideally the OCP should be completed in December.

Another priority that will include numerous public consultations and discussions is the potential of a new fire hall. We have included a onetime supplement in this year’s budget for a professional to undertake the public consultation process and develop a detailed cost estimate of a new fire hall. We want to inform the public of all relevant facts prior to taking the issue of borrowing to referendum. With an understanding of the rationale for a new fire hall, detailed costing, possible location, potential size and amenities, the public will be provided with a common knowledge base to make an informed decision at the time of the referendum. More to come on this topic. And again, public consultation is a huge factor.

Take the time to become involved in the decision making process. Striking a balance for the entire community takes your input.

Karen Unruh is in her first term as a Creston councillor. She can be reached at karen.unruh@creston.ca or 250-428-4148.