Archive for November 28th, 2009

Citizenship practice

By Tom Read

The Powell River Regional District lives in a former residence in the Townsite part of Powell River. The residence may date from 1911, but the PRRD started in the late 1960s. Texada Island is known as "Electoral Area D" of the regional district.

It is not uncommon for Texadans to consider themselves citizens of Texada Island. If you care enough about a place to identify yourself as a citizen, not merely a “resident,” then it follows that you would find it worthwhile to keep yourself informed about public policies affecting your home. So it is with me.

A routine part of my citizenship practice is to keep an informed eye on government. All levels of government affect our lives here on Texada, but I especially like to follow the activities of our local government, the Powell River Regional District (PRRD).  Why? Because local government touches our community directly, every day, and it seems more accountable to citizens than the “senior” levels of government (provincial and federal).  Here are some examples of PRRD agenda items:

— Proposed tax rates for Texada property owners for next year, and the cost of our local government;

— Proposed new services and the tax increases and fees expected to fund them;

— How often the PRRD Directors meet in camera (behind closed doors) and for what purposes;

— Who is recommended (and ultimately given) contracts, at what cost, to do tree work, gardening, carpentry, grass-cutting, facilities maintenance, and various types of professional consulting regarding Texada;

— How many campers stayed at Shelter Point Park last year, compared to previous years;

— Proposed land subdivisions;

— Proposed new regulations, including zoning bylaws, development permits, and burning restrictions;

— Proposed water licenses;

— Proposed industrial developments, including aquaculture, mining, power generation facilities, and communication towers;

— Who gets appointed to the local and regional committees that shape public policy on Texada;

— This year’s cost of insuring, heating, lighting and administering Texada’s public buildings;

— Who wants a local road permanently closed to vehicle traffic, and why;

— Which community groups are getting grants from the PRRD;

and the list goes on and on….

The word “proposed” occurs frequently, doesn’t it? That’s because such topics show up as agenda items for PRRD committee meetings before they’re voted on at an actual PRRD Directors meeting. There’s a window of opportunity, sometimes only a day, other times stretching into weeks, months or even years, when citizens will first learn about an issue, yet still have time to provide input to the directors before they vote on it.

Since most of the real work of governance takes place in committee meetings, it’s critical for citizens to get a look at committee agendas before the committee members meet to thrash out their “recommendations” to the formal Board of Directors. Why the quotes? Because by the time a committee makes specific recommendations, that’s quite often word-for-word (and dollar-for-dollar) what the directors will eventually approve as official policy.

Holding government accountable isn’t a particularly sexy topic, so I congratulate you if you’ve stayed with me this far. Now we come to the heart of the matter: the do-it-yourself citizen’s guide to keeping track of our local public servants. Here’s how to do it online:  go to the PRRD website home page, click on Meetings, then click on Agendas, then open and read each .pdf agenda package (warning: these are typically large files, requiring a high-speed internet connection). Beware also that the agenda package for a given committee is usually posted about 24 hours before the meeting, so if something important shows up, you may have to act fast to be heard in a meaningful way.

Each agenda package usually begins with Minutes from the previous meeting, so if you want to read about new stuff, scroll down and pick out anything that mentions “Texada” or that might affect Texada Island. By doing this each month, I feel that I’m much better informed as a citizen, and I am even able to occasionally give meaningful input before decisions that affect me are made.


Post facto

November 2009
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