CSP’s false start fostered community mistrust 

Municipality acknowledges rocky beginning

The municipality has admitted it made a mistake in the early days of the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan process, namely losing the trust of the community at the outset.

But Municipal Administrator Jim Godrey said even though the CSP got off to a "false start", the plan has come a long way since the early days and has since managed to engage community members along the way, building trust in the process.

"We worked very hard with significant engagement programs in order to make it work," said Godfrey.

It was almost three years ago when the municipality first asked the community to participate in choosing the CSP consultants back in January of 2002. But when citizens came out in droves to do their civic duty, and choose a team to lead them, the municipality ultimately ignored their preference. This got the CSP off to a "false start" and created a sense of mistrust in the community.

The acknowledgment of the CSP’s so-called "false start" happened at a workshop presentation by Municipal Administrator Jim Godfrey and the General Manager of Community Initiatives Mike Vance during a three-day conference on citizen engagement hosted by the Whistler Forum last week.

"It was good to see that the administration recognized there was a problem," said Bob Lorriman, who was one of a handful of residents at the presentation. "I think it’s too bad that they hadn’t recognized that earlier and gone in front of the community and said ‘look, we’re sorry, this is what we did wrong, this is what we’ve tried to do to correct it.’ I think they would have won back a lot more trust."

Godfrey said the municipality worked to rectify the rocky first launch of the CSP by re-launching the process later that year and since then he believes there has been good community engagement.

"We came up with a community engagement process that some people embraced and others didn’t," he said.

Councillor Kristi Wells, who moderated the workshop on citizen engagement and the CSP, said she never realized that council’s early decision on the CSP created such a sense of mistrust among some community members.

"People have not let go of it," said Wells.

"For me, that was just so powerful as a lesson."

Wells said "It wasn’t that council had made the wrong decision. But their communication of that decision and their feedback to the community and how they implemented the new decision didn’t quell any feelings of mistrust. Losing trust was critical, she said. "Who trusts politicians anymore, or the system?" said Wells. "Democracy is failing world-wide. Voter apathy is worse than it’s ever been world-wide. And these are all issues that brought us to the table in the first place."

As Lorriman suggests, the decision to ignore the community’s choice from day one exacerbated the mistrust that seems to exist between citizens and government. The municipality had to fight to get trust again, thereby getting community engagement.

"You have an uphill battle to win that trust back and I don’t think the municipality recognized it," said Lorriman. "They certainly didn’t address it, that they had to try to win our trust back to get our engagement again.

"To be honest with you I still don’t think they recognize it."

A number of steps were taken to engage the community after that first session. Over the past two years there have been public workshops, a Web site forum, online discussion groups, a tool kit, and media advertisements, among other things.

While it was nice to see the municipality trying to fix its mistake, Lorriman said this acknowledgement should have been done earlier, and also it in a forum with local community members, not at a conference attracting predominately guests.

"There’s a lot of people in the community that have put a lot of input into the CSP and have not heard that admission and I think that’s too bad," he said.

Despite its rocky start, the heart of the CSP work is now underway and has heavy community participation. Since he was hired a year ago, Vance has been charged with getting the CSP on track. Now more than 100 community members are involved in developing the plan’s action strategies and steps for the future.

The CSP has 16 different strategies, ranging from the affordability strategy to the energy strategy and the transportation strategy. Community stakeholders have been asked to participate in their areas of expertise for each of the strategies.

Their work for the 2005 action steps is now wrapping up and in the New Year the task forces will focus on action steps for five-year, 10-year and 15-year time periods.

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