Penticton looking to be more engaging

Penticton city council came under fire this week after making a 4-2 decision to hire an engagement contractor.

Coun. Tarik Sayeed and Mayor Andrew Jakubeit come together to cut the cake on B.C. Day. Penticton city council is working on ways to increase engagement with the public.

Coun. Tarik Sayeed and Mayor Andrew Jakubeit come together to cut the cake on B.C. Day. Penticton city council is working on ways to increase engagement with the public.

Penticton city council came under fire this week after making a 4-2 decision to hire an engagement contractor.

The new position would be responsible for both developing an engagement strategy, but also engaging the community on upcoming and ongoing city projects like the Official Community Plan review, the Facilities Master Plan, Tourism and the Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

The budget for the position is $70,000 annually, plus $15,000 for software costs. Staff initially suggested a three-year term for the contract, but the final decision was to limit the term to Nov. 2018, so the position could be reassessed in the 2018 budget talks.

Lynn Kelsey, a regular council watcher, was surprised by the move, saying she was frustrated with council’s approach.

“I don’t know whether I really think you have the cart before the horse on this one, I don’t think you have engaged the citizens in terms of talking about how you are going to spend $85,000 a year of their money to engage them,” said Kelsey.

While some councillors wanted to defer discussion of the new position to the 2017 budget talks, Mayor Andrew Jakubeit was a strong proponent of initiating the position as soon as possible.

It’s a topic that Jakubeit has been stressing since August 2015, when a large group of citizens began protests against a deal to lease public park land to a private developer.

“We should have been more diligent with providing, or demanding, a more robust engagement plan, maybe 60 days instead of 30,” Jakubeit said last August.

Penticton isn’t alone in its desire to create engagement, according to Jakubeit, who said other cities and businesses are examining the problem.

“Maybe it is more in the limelight because of contentious issues over the last year or so, but there are still more contentious issues to deal with,” said Jakubeit. “To deal with some of them, we want to make sure we are making all efforts to be out there and engaging with the community.”

Coun. Tarik Sayeed agreed the city needed to improve engagement, but wanted to delay hiring a person to do it.

“I am not comfortable with making this decision now because we are only looking at three months or so for the November budget talks. I would be much more comfortable making this decision after I look at the financial state of our situation for the next year,” said Sayeed. In the meantime, he wanted council to invest some time.

“I think what we can do is that we, as council, can do a better job in communicating with our citizens,” said Sayeed. “We are public servants, it is our responsibility, it is our obligation. I think we need to step forward and connect with our citizens more often.”

Sayeed suggested several ways this could be accomplished: social media, sending letters to the editor, hold coffee sessions similar to former mayor Garry Litke’s lunch sessions.

“We are the ones making the decisions, we are doing the homework, so it should be us. It should be short term, let’s give it a try,” said Sayeed. “We as a team can share the burden. Honestly, I would give myself almost an F in terms of communication.

“For me, offloading my position and responsibilities to a temporary contract, that is just not fair.”

Jakubeit had a different take on engagement.

“It is not our job to go on the city website and update information or create engagement strategies and moderate those,” said Jakubeit. “I don’t disagree with going out and using social media or being accessible and talk to people. To do some of the day-to-day operations, I am not sure that is our mandate or what we should be doing.”

Jakubeit did say council could do a better job engaging, but argued against increasing use of social media.

“Anytime you spend time on any social media, it is very time-consuming and you also need to have the correct information. I think that is illustrated at the capacity of staff to update social media,” said Jakubeit. “It takes time to create the information for any of us to talk intelligently on whatever the question of the day is.”

But Jakubeit said he does respond on social media.

“I don’t respond to everyone, I try not to get into the back and forth. I present why the city did something, just getting some of that basic information out there, not really engaging in the debate, but at least addressing part of it,” he said.

Jakubeit said having better engagement might affect how councillors would vote on a contentious decision, responding to a question about council moving ahead with the Skaha Park lease last summer in spite of rallies with large numbers of citizens protesting the decision.

“I guess that is part of what we are trying to nail down. Some did try to defend their thoughts and got vilified for doing so,” said Jakubeit. “I can’t turn back time. We can all sit back and look at that and say there are lessons to be learned out of various elements of that process.”

The hope according to Jakubeit is that engagement will give councillors more input, representing a larger cross-section than just pro or con camps.

“If a robust view is I am nervous about this, or I don’t like this then council would have the comfort to say it’s not one focus group pro, or it’s not one focus group con, it’s a mixed bag of people,” said Jakubeit. “That is going to make me confident to vote for it, or it is going to make me uncomfortable to vote for it and I am going to be hesitant or not support it.

“Not every single thing that happens in the community is a referendum, but there is a mechanism for people to voice their support or concern and for council to have information they are comfortable with to say this is a good reflection of the communities needs or wants.”

This latest move to hire an engagement co-ordinator is the city’s second attempt. In January 2016, there was a short-lived contract with Janis Magnuson to provide similar services. City manager Eric Sorensen was reluctant to say why that didn’t work out.

“She could no longer perform the service that we had contracted with her. I can’t share the reasons why, it falls under the realm of privacy,” said Sorensen. “She delivered on about half of the requirements. She has a fair bit of expertise in the area of public engagement and she was able to outline some of the requirements. She wasn’t able to fulfil on building some of the tools because she wasn’t able to complete her task.”

Steve Kidd

Western News Staff

Penticton city council came under fire this week after making a 4-2 decision to hire an engagement contractor.

The new position would be responsible for both developing an engagement strategy, but also engaging the community on upcoming and ongoing city projects like the Official Community Plan review, the Facilities Master Plan, Tourism and the Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

The budget for the position is $70,000 annually, plus $15,000 for software costs. Staff initially suggested a three-year term for the contract, but the final decision was to limit the term to Nov. 2018, so the position could be reassessed in the 2018 budget talks.

Lynn Kelsey, a regular council watcher, was surprised by the move, saying she was frustrated with council’s approach.

“I don’t know whether I really think you have the cart before the horse on this one, I don’t think you have engaged the citizens in terms of talking about how you are going to spend $85,000 a year of their money to engage them,” said Kelsey.

While some councillors wanted to defer discussion of the new position to the 2017 budget talks, Mayor Andrew Jakubeit was a strong proponent of initiating the position as soon as possible.

It’s a topic that Jakubeit has been stressing since August 2015, when a large group of citizens began protests against a deal to lease public park land to a private developer.

“We should have been more diligent with providing, or demanding, a more robust engagement plan, maybe 60 days instead of 30,” Jakubeit said last August.

Penticton isn’t alone in its desire to create engagement, according to Jakubeit, who said other cities and businesses are examining the problem.

“Maybe it is more in the limelight because of contentious issues over the last year or so, but there are still more contentious issues to deal with,” said Jakubeit. “To deal with some of them, we want to make sure we are making all efforts to be out there and engaging with the community.”

Coun. Tarik Sayeed agreed the city needed to improve engagement, but wanted to delay hiring a person to do it.

“I am not comfortable with making this decision now because we are only looking at three months or so for the November budget talks. I would be much more comfortable making this decision after I look at the financial state of our situation for the next year,” said Sayeed. In the meantime, he wanted council to invest some time.

“I think what we can do is that we, as council, can do a better job in communicating with our citizens,” said Sayeed. “We are public servants, it is our responsibility, it is our obligation. I think we need to step forward and connect with our citizens more often.”

Sayeed suggested several ways this could be accomplished: social media, sending letters to the editor, hold coffee sessions similar to former mayor Garry Litke’s lunch sessions.

“We are the ones making the decisions, we are doing the homework, so it should be us. It should be short term, let’s give it a try,” said Sayeed. “We as a team can share the burden. Honestly, I would give myself almost an F in terms of communication.

“For me, offloading my position and responsibilities to a temporary contract, that is just not fair.”

Jakubeit had a different take on engagement.

“It is not our job to go on the city website and update information or create engagement strategies and moderate those,” said Jakubeit. “I don’t disagree with going out and using social media or being accessible and talk to people. To do some of the day-to-day operations, I am not sure that is our mandate or what we should be doing.”

Jakubeit did say council could do a better job engaging, but argued against increasing use of social media.

“Anytime you spend time on any social media, it is very time-consuming and you also need to have the correct information. I think that is illustrated at the capacity of staff to update social media,” said Jakubeit. “It takes time to create the information for any of us to talk intelligently on whatever the question of the day is.”

But Jakubeit said he does respond on social media.

“I don’t respond to everyone, I try not to get into the back and forth. I present why the city did something, just getting some of that basic information out there, not really engaging in the debate, but at least addressing part of it,” he said.

Jakubeit said having better engagement might affect how councillors would vote on a contentious decision, responding to a question about council moving ahead with the Skaha Park lease last summer in spite of rallies with large numbers of citizens protesting the decision.

“I guess that is part of what we are trying to nail down. Some did try to defend their thoughts and got vilified for doing so,” said Jakubeit. “I can’t turn back time. We can all sit back and look at that and say there are lessons to be learned out of various elements of that process.”

The hope according to Jakubeit is that engagement will give councillors more input, representing a larger cross-section than just pro or con camps.

“If a robust view is I am nervous about this, or I don’t like this then council would have the comfort to say it’s not one focus group pro, or it’s not one focus group con, it’s a mixed bag of people,” said Jakubeit. “That is going to make me confident to vote for it, or it is going to make me uncomfortable to vote for it and I am going to be hesitant or not support it.

“Not every single thing that happens in the community is a referendum, but there is a mechanism for people to voice their support or concern and for council to have information they are comfortable with to say this is a good reflection of the communities needs or wants.”

This latest move to hire an engagement co-ordinator is the city’s second attempt. In January 2016, there was a short-lived contract with Janis Magnuson to provide similar services. City manager Eric Sorensen was reluctant to say why that didn’t work out.

Read more: City looking to improve consultation processes

“She could no longer perform the service that we had contracted with her. I can’t share the reasons why, it falls under the realm of privacy,” said Sorensen. “She delivered on about half of the requirements. She has a fair bit of expertise in the area of public engagement and she was able to outline some of the requirements. She wasn’t able to fulfil on building some of the tools because she wasn’t able to complete her task.”