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Ensure transparency at public meetings on waste, warden urged

In Simcoe County
Jan 27th, 2010

By DOUGLAS GLYNN Midland Free Press
Warden Cal Patterson has been urged to intervene to ensure that public meetings to deal with any county waste management strategy be “transparent, fair and objective.” The request comes on the heels of a county consultant’s recommendation that “the most beneficial form of a public meeting in their experience have utilized an open house format” that would “include panel displays outlining the key aspects of the strategy.
Stantec -the county consultant -has proposed that a project team “guide the public through panel displays and be available to answer any questions on a one-on-one basis. Residents would be invited to provide feedback.”
The letter -signed by 130 people -says, in part:
“Those of us who have been part of the Site 41 opposition for many years remember the County of Simcoe open house in Feb. 2003, in the village of Wyebridge, to involve the general public for Site 41. This was a profoundly discouraging experience for the community. The County’s account of what happened was completely at odds with what the public heard and understood. The result was a deep and abiding mistrust of the County.”
This time, the letter suggests, “the (waste management strategy) steering committee needs to be at the centre of the process. The consultants should be there for technical support. Members of the steering committee should attend the public meetings so they can hear from the public and answer questions.
“At each public open house,” the letter adds, “there needs to be an opportunity for questions to be asked and answered in a recorded public forum. The minutes would then become part of the public record for the benefit of the Waste Strategy Steering Committee and the public at large.”
Three questions were put to the county communications department for Warden Cal Patterson; two of them concerning the foregoing suggestions as to how the meetings should be conducted.
Asked if it is his “intention as warden to present the request to council at its regular meeting or at the special meeting (with Stantec scheduled for tomorrow), the reply offered on his behalf said:
“It will be presented at the special meeting on January 28th with the Steering Committee’s recommendations.
The second question asked if the warden would “seek support from council to ensure there will be the kind of public involvement sought in the letter (as detailed above), (keeping in mind that the steering committee is appointed by council and the consultant has been hired by the county.)
The warden’s reply said, “the Consultants (Stantec) have made recommendations on the best way to gain public input and it was approved by the Steering Committee.
The letter also called on Patterson to ensure that what it calls “proper public meetings” be held, “so that people can come together as a community and hear what the County is proposing and what their neighbours have to say.”
“Those of us who have the experience of other public processes know that the open house format is designed by consultants to benefit consultants,” the letter continues.
It cites a number of objections to the Stantec format, saying the consultants: “control the framing of the discussion; can discard any awkward questions as being outside their view of what the discussion is about; can decide on the relevance of possibly inconvenient information that a member of the public may elicit or bring forward; control the record-keeping; control the selection of comments to be reported from the open house, and control the manner of the reporting.
“The process is fundamentally undemocratic,” it adds.
The letter notes that the steering committee has held three meetings, each well-attended by members of the public, but no opportunity was provided “at the end of these meetings for the public to ask questions or make suggestions.
“The process as it is presently envisioned treats the public as a distant third party, to be distrusted and controlled,’ the letter adds.
The letter also says there is confusion over a web site established by the county for public feedback.
Will the County site “allow open comment for all to read” or will the comments be sent to the consultant who will summarize them for the committee? the letter asks.
Following is the third question submitted for a response from Warden Patterson.
The waste management steering committee recently voted to defeat the following motion: “That this committee wishes county council to have no more landfill sites and stop putting any waste into dump sites here or anywhere as soon as possible.”
All four County Councillors, plus one public member, opposed the motion.
The public now clearly knows where the four county councillors’ stand on landfills.
Where –as a county councillor and warden –do you stand on the continuing use of landfills and, in particular, on any further use of Site 41; whether it be as a landfill; (as suggested by a county councillor, a transfer station, or other type of waste disposal use?
The full response, provided on the warden’s behalf, said:
“I would suggest that it may be somewhat unfair and premature to state the public now knows where the four councillors stand at the present time on landfills. We are only in the initial stages of the Strategy process where options are identified.
We anticipate significant input will occur again when the time comes to select the County’s preferred systems. This will follow the next stage of the process where the consultants will analyze the identified options.”

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