"I really think public engagement is something that we've got to really look at carefully. By using COVID-19 as you know, sort of something that is going to block a lot of communication and that. I think we need to definitely find a way around it. Whether its a survey we put out in the paper or online or something like that ... I really think the overall picture, we've got to take a careful look at it, because so many times I've heard people say well I didn't know anything about that. And I know we've advertised it and everything, but how we're going to get it out to the public this time to get it right, I think is very important" -- Councillor Barry Cunningham speaking to Council in June of this year
As they look ahead to what will come in 2021, Prince Rupert's elected officials should offer up a resolution for 2021 towards following some helpful guidance once again relayed from one of their own back in June.
That as Councillor Barry Cunningham continued on with his frequent contributions on themes of keeping engaged with the public.
A commentary which was no doubt heard through the year by his council partners; yet seem to have been sentiments that at times appeared to slide off of Council's radar as the year moved forward.
The reduced inter-action with the residents of the city came in the weeks and months following some frustration with the provincial government which had cancelled the City's own COVID related measures something that appeared to be a bit of a sore spot for Council for months following.
Whether it's the range of housing themes that seem to have left residents confused and raised the concerns of the public for Council, something that at times appears to have caught them by surprise.
Or the lost opportunities of bringing an overview of civic services and investments such as The Legacy Corporation, or CityWest to the Council Chamber for a public review (another often made suggestion of Councillor Cunningham's) Council at times seemed to forget the need to deliver a wide information overview to the public.
Even the process of the monthly Council sessions at times seemed to be a struggle for the elected officials this year, whether it be a cancelled Council session, lost broadcasts leaving for no archive or some ridiculously brief in time and lacking in content public Council sessions that took place on a number of occasions this year.
All of which raises the danger of an impression for many of those at home that much of the "real work' for Council takes place outside of the public sphere, conducted in the growing number of closed meetings and workshops, the scheduled sessions becoming more of a public relations exercise it seems.
For the city's residents, there is still no proper accounting of civic travel budgets available on the city website for public review, nor even a record of attendance, or how each Councillor votes on the topics that they discuss during the course of their public sessions, whether but fifteen minutes, or those that manage to make it past one hour mark.
As we've noted through the year, much of the information sharing this year was streamed through the Mayor's Facebook page, a social media project that while helpful to get the word out, seems somewhat partisan and easily hijacked by many of the Mayor's loyal followers.
For a period of time in 2020, much of the governance of the community seemed to be conducted by Facebook posts, with the Council members for the most part removed from the process of civic administration, not exactly what the public probably had in mind when the few that bothered to vote cast their ballots at the last civic election.
By comparison, the city's website is often the last place anyone may find anything of note for public consumption.
Rather than the information signal post that it should be, so as to provide for basic information without any partisan spin and one that could be used by those who perhaps are not engaged in the social media world that many of the Council members seem to thrive in these days; instead the city website at times tends to be an overlooked or neglected instrument of information sharing.was the once easy access to City Hall, access which had already being scaled back by the civic administration well prior to the arrival of COVID.
And as the reports of the coronavirus in BC appeared, so did the pace accelerate towards pulling up the draw bridge at City Hall, where booking appointments became the guiding theme, something that tends to reduce the prospect of an engaged community.
The Social Distancing measures in place through the year also meant a suspension for such important mechanisms as Public Hearings and public information sessions on major themes such as the Official Community plan or other initiatives, serving as another loss towards getting the word out on major plans and more importantly, gaining important feedback from the public on the plans in motion.
Though as we've seen through the year, other municipalities around the Northwest did manage to find some work arounds when it came to keeping the public part of the municipal process.
There is no doubt that COVID provided for many challenges for City Council and while they had some success at times in keeping the wheels of municipal government moving; there were also things that got away from them, and those for the most part provided for a sense of distance and broken communication between the officials and the residents of the community.
Hopefully, while we await a return to more normal times as we travel through 2021, the city's elected officials may be able to find some safe work arounds to at least return some of the lost options from 2020 to the public discussion for the year ahead.
For more notes related to City Council themes see our archive page here.