I received a bit of feedback on yesterday’s Council Agenda Preview post and my comments on the planned removal of the structure on the Town Dock. I will repeat my position on this – I am neutral as to whether it should or should not be demolished, replaced, repaired or expanded. I am however not neutral on the process of transparency. It needs to be part of the spirit and process of Parry Sound.

I understand that the Waterfront Committee is composed of a number of capable and caring individuals. I do not in any way question their motives. I may or may not agree with their recommendations, but I am willing to accept the decision of the majority. Unfortunately, there is no process in place for the majority to understand what is being proposed.

Have we as a Town not learned some lessons over the past couple of years? A committee of the Downtown Business Association presented a plan for revising Market Square Park that was shot down because it did not include community involvement. And the Fluoride issue should be a reminder that an agenda item posted on a Friday for discussion and community input on the following Tuesday is probably not sufficient lead time for major issues with significant community impact. The Trails Master Plan is another case of a committee presenting a plan that had not been appropriately shared with the larger community for input. In the end the Community was in agreement with the plan and there shouldn’t be a cause for later protest. Feels good, doesn’t it?

The last I remember of the Waterfront Committee plans was a presentation about how the railings on the dock and the benches were going to be painted gray. At the same time there was discussion of a new structure at the end of the Town Dock. There were concept drawings of replacement structures that included a two story observation deck. But there wasn’t, to my recollection, any proposal advanced at that meeting as to the decision to actually remove the current structure, or what would replace it.

So if I attend pretty much every council meeting and have a fuzzy recollection of what has been presented, what is the awareness of the general public? Is this intended to be a surprise? People aren’t too good with surprises. Why not hold an open house with the proposed design and let people see what’s planned and listen to their input? This is done by the Public Works Department. Yes, attendance is low, but they at least can say people were given notice and a chance to provide their input. The structure at the end of the Town Dock is an iconic structure that has come to be a significant visual representation of Parry Sound. Perhaps it’s time for a change. I suspect that whatever is constructed, bigger, smaller, taller, more modern, more traditional, will not appeal to everyone. Let’s get the input in earlier rather than later.

Parry Sound has a bit of a problem with transparency. It’s not deliberate, but it mucks up the system. Let me explain.

In the absence of a formally announced public meeting to introduce a new concept or proposal the general process is that the item is simply added to the town council agenda for discussion. The timeline for this is as follows. A council agenda is usually published by noon on the Friday before a council meeting. It is available in short form, without any attachments or agenda on the Town’s website. It is available to the local press and interested parties at the same time with the full package, except for closed meeting details.

So the only way a ‘non-groupie’ would be able to know what is on the agenda would be by going to the Town’s website and looking for the upcoming agenda. And if there is an item of interest on the agenda they would need to contact the Town for a copy of the full agenda. If they were eager beavers they would be able to get the request in by the Friday, but most likely they might get around to reviewing the brief agenda on the weekend and putting in the request on Monday. Assuming Monday isn’t a civic holiday, they could expect to get it before the end of Monday. If not, it would probably be provided before the close of business on Tuesday. That really doesn’t provide much time for review. And if the person can’t work with an electronic copy of the full agenda package I guess they would need to schlep over to the Town Hall and ask to see a printed copy. If they wanted a copy of the agenda package they would probably need to pay for the paper copy.

Not everyone is a ‘groupie’ or an ‘eager beaver’. So they will typically only find out what has happened at any meeting long after it has been decided (unless they subscribe to this blog). That probably is okay for the majority of issues addressed by Town Council. But there will be issues that benefit from a more open and proactive communication, road plans, fluoridation, changes to parks and facilities, pumping stations, trail plans. I’m not kidding about the pumping station. It was a meeting held by Public Works, and ensured that Parry Sound residents had their chance to understand what was involved.

My recommendation regarding the gazebo? Council should receive the resolution, discuss it and request public comment prior to the next meeting of Council (March 15, 2016). That will then allow Moose-FM and the North Star/Beacon Star to get the word out that a change is planned. And the North Star/Beacon Star folks would probably be able to post (parrysound.com) some images for people to take a look at and form an opinion. The Town should also host images and details online and at the Town Office, with paper copies for those who want to drop by. This would ensure that input was received from the whole community, not just a committee and Staff. And this is not one of those 21-day public notice issues, so a week and a half should be more than enough to prevent a later revolt but not slow things up.

As an aside regarding transparency. I am unable to find any information on the Town’s website regarding a waterfront plan or minutes of the Waterfront Committee that might have provided some early warning of proposed changes. The minutes were readily available before the previous website design, so they may be there but I can’t find them. But then again perhaps I’m just an ‘old fart’ who can’t find his way around a computer and these darn fangled generation 2.0 websites. And I really must be getting old, because I don’t ‘chirp’, or is that ‘tweet’?

Yes, it’s more work to keep people informed and involved, but it can save time, effort and hurt feelings in the long term. Enough of this, it’s time to get started working on the Fluoride 2018 vote.

Actually, I Enjoy Preparing the Sights Much More Than the Posts