Governments meet in public to discuss and debate policy implementation and the administration of community. It’s one of the hallmarks of democracy.
Public engagement with their own governance encourages transparency in elected offices, holds politicians accountable and has an impact on the way our social systems operate.
Getting the public to come out to civic meetings, however, is becoming increasingly difficult.
It’s hard for many residents to become interested enough in the minutiae of municipal operations to want to attend council and other meetings and engage in the democratic process.
One West Shore community, however, is inviting people into chambers for those discussions from the comfort of their own home – or anywhere else they have a computer – in an attempt to increase transparency and engagement.
The City of Colwood has been webcasting and video archiving council meetings since last June. Since the implementation, Colwood council meetings have been viewed by the public more than 4,000 times.
Improving communication with the public was identified as a key strategic priority by Colwood council in 2012, says city communications manager Sandra Russell.
The city understands residents have busy lives and are often not able to attend civic meetings, Russell adds, so webcasting allows the public to “attend” council meeting at their leisure, stay informed about current issues affecting the city, and learn about upcoming community projects and events.
Don’t expect other districts and townships to follow Colwood’s lead anytime soon, however.
Sarah Jones, director of corporate administration and deputy CAO for the Town of View Royal says because of their community’s size, the mayor and council have an excellent feel for the needs of their community and haven’t heard any outcry for the service.
It’s easy for the public to talk to the mayor and councillors at the grocery store or out in the community, Jones says, and because they do such a good job of engaging them on various other levels – newsletters and ease of personal availability, for example – the public feels connected to what’s going on at council.
“It’s really a matter of doing what we can with the resources available to us,” Jones says. “We’ve been talking about better ways to engage and communicate, and our new Mayor (David Screech) has a big interest in communicating with the public,” she says, but, from what she understands, people are more worried about things like property taxes than being able to access video of council meetings.
Those sentiments are echoed by the District of Metchosin.
“I am unaware of any requests for webcasting our meetings,” says Tammie Van Swieten, the district’s deputy corporate officer. “We do (however) record our meetings on a digital recording system.”
Metchosin also has a free mail-out that goes to all residents quarterly which helps keep their district informed of what’s going on at council, and all minutes and agendas from all meetings are available online, as they are for every other district, township and city on the West Shore.
Highlands Mayor Ken Williams says the topic of webcasting hasn’t come up at their meetings, but assumes it will eventually.
Williams says a new committee structure was approved last year which will see citizen representation as both voting and non-voting members to provide more feedback and increase public participation and engagement on public issues.
Appointments to these new committees are being considered this month.