On October 23 and 26, Haldimand County staff held meetings in Caledonia and Hagersville to gather public input on a project to build a trail between those two towns. I attended both, and observed some interesting things about how county staff gathers public input.
The first meeting at the Caledonia library was attended by one County staffer and about a dozen members of the public. Large-format colour printouts of this and other proposed trail routes were posted around a room, but no organized attempt was made to present or explain them. Finally a lady asked the staffer for a guided tour of the maps, which was provided, although it did not appear to be a scheduled part of the program.
Many of the ensuing questions centred around the cost of the trail, but the staffer—despite being the person responsible for the project—could provide no information, instead inviting the public to look it up for themselves in the County capital forecast, which we were assured was posted online.
Finally, we were invited to complete a questionnaire. The second question was “Do you support building a trail from Caledonia to Hagersville?” We were supposed to commit ourselves one way or the other in the total absence of any information about what it would cost.
However, only about half the citizens present actually faced this dilemma because the staffer had prepared only five or six colour photocopies of the questionnaire, and a dozen people showed up. The staffer suggested that those too slow or too polite to grab a questionnaire before they ran out could e-mail or phone the County office with their input the next day. However, a member of the public took it upon herself to solve the problem in a vastly more efficient way by taking the last blank colour copy of the questionnaire to the library photocopier and making additional copies on the spot at her own expense, even if only in lowly black-and-white.
Fortunately, there was some improvement at the October 26 meeting in Hagersville. It was better attended, the number of colour printouts on display had been reduced to two, and they were both relevant to the trail under discussion. There were enough copies of the questionnaire to go around, and they were all in colour. However, the staffer was still unable to provide any information about the cost of the trail, and neither the staffer nor the councillor who showed up took any notes on anything that the public said.
If this exercise in gathering public input had been conducted by a summer student, I think we could just giggle and move on. But the staffer who conducted it is on the Sunshine List. And I looked up the projected cost of the trail in the online budget : it’s over two million dollars.