A drive to engage with Penticton community members isn’t drawing in the numbers the city hoped for.
Since the start of November, engagement consultant Joanne Kleb held a series of open houses, workshops and similar sessions on the infrastructure challenge facing the city, which drew a total of 150 people, with another 550 visiting shapeyourcitypenticton.ca over the same time period.
“Not huge numbers, but really good participation,” said Kleb. “These numbers are nowhere near as high as we would like them to be. They don’t reflect the overall population.”
Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said it’s too soon to say whether the engagement push is working, noting that Kleb only began her work in September.
“This is a journey. It is not going to happen overnight,” said Jakubeit. “We are changing people’s behaviors to create an avenue for them to safely express their ideas, concerns or support.”
Jakubeit said traditional methods aren’t working either, noting a public hearing that draws 20 or 100 people isn’t necessarily representative of the city’s 34,000 members.
“It sounds very simple, but it is a lot more complicated. A lot of people certainly have opinions on what the city should or shouldn’t do, but taking five minutes to send an email … a lot of people say ‘I don’t have time for that’.”
Other councillors had concerns about the low turnout. Kleb was reticent answering a question from Coun. Max Picton about the number of unique visitors to the website or to her engagement sessions.
The website doesn’t give her that information, she said, and it would only be an anecdotal opinion about who was attending in person.
“The number of repeat customers is down to about five and the others are all different faces,” said Kleb.
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Coun. Judy Sentes expressed concern that the feedback Kleb was collecting and passing to council was coming from a small group.
“It is disappointing, considering the effort this city has made to engage people that the numbers are as low as they are,” said Sentes. “I also noticed … a repetition of some questions that I suspect are the same people.”
Konanz shared those concerns, especially with council facing long-term decisions.
“We are going to be making decisions in the next couple of months that will affect the city for the next 10 or 20 years,” said Konanz. “I have difficulty basing decisions on serious issues on that amount of people.”
Although participation in this last phase was lower than hoped, Kleb said the value of the feedback was still considerable. During the sessions on dealing with the city’s infrastructure deficit, she said they focused on nine options.
One of those options was increasing taxes, which Kleb said was “definitely not people’s desired approach to addressing the deficit.”
“What there was a lot of was recognition that taxes have been low in this community and acceptance that taxes will have to increase,” said Kleb. “All of the feedbacks said the increase needs to be gradual.”
Citizens are also concerned about “death by 1,000 cuts” according to Kleb, referring to a growing perception that small increases here and there will add up to a significant change.
“A theme that continues is low trust. They want a little more involvement in governance when it comes to making some of these changes,” said Kleb.