You don't feel heard: let's change that!
As a council, we can’t hear what you want for your city if we don’t or won't listen to your voices.
Whether young, old or in between your voice matters and we must have effective ways of hearing you.
Unfortunately, early in the present term, the current Mayor binned key Hamilton forums for getting public input – these included the Youth Council, the Council of Elders and the Arts Council. This was done with no real discussion or consultation. I was unhappy with that.
I know from my discussions with our younger citizens that they want to be clearly heard on an ongoing basis, not just occasionally listened to. As recent protests and pleas over climate change show, this need of young people to be listened to is a global trend we must not ignore. Youth and younger citizens need to have genuine input into their future.
Sadly, I also hear regularly from senior citizens who say: “There is no point submitting to council. They don’t listen.”
If elected Mayor, one of my priorities will be to restore effective forums for regularly hearing what the community wants. I will work with you to re-create the best forums for your issues to be shared AND for you to shape the future of your city.
But there’s a range of other things we can do to improve mechanisms for hearing the public’s voice.
We can do more to promote consultation in addition to our existing online opportunities via the “Have Your Say”. We can make it easier for you.
Right now, the regular participation of the public at council committee meetings is limited to five minutes about only items on the agenda. Every three years the public can submit to the Long Term Plan. But this takes time and is not user friendly. More needs to be done.
I want to see an investigation into how we can promote face-to-face discussion between the public and councillors, not just at election time.
If we don’t, we risk the same old, same old where local authority decision-making can be unduly dominated or captured by particular interest groups and the good old “squeaky wheel”. These groups are highly motivated to create favourable outcomes for themselves, which is fair enough. But we need to create more space for the voice of the everyday citizen to be heard so that shapes decisions as well.
Social media offers opportunities in this regard. Just take a look at the growth of online forums such as residents’ pages and Neighbourly which show it’s clear people want to connect to share and discuss local issues and concerns.
I’d like to see the council do more to use strong social media networks to listen to community concerns and ideas. In this age of technology we must embrace modern apps and online forums for this purpose. They do exist.
An example of how things can work better is the Rototuna Village Hub consultation. I was proud to push for wider public consultation on its design. We ended up getting great creative input from many sectors of that community. It was particularly exciting to see high school students lead the process for student input. A retirement village host with support from residents and staff, and local voluntary community groups, led public open days on the project. The input gained was really valuable.
Also, when an error was made on a council Long Term Plan feedback form, creating problems and undermining public confidence, I used a casting vote as committee chair to allow submitters who may have made an error to correct it.
As chair of the community committee I have also invited sectors to present reports on an annual basis. But even measures such as these only scratch the surface of real community engagement.
I am so passionate about public participation that I undertook professional development with the International Association of Public Participation last year.
We need to widen democracy much more because clearly people are not satisfied and, currently, we are missing out on really good local knowledge and experience.
I promise I will find ways to provide you with a platform to speak out and for us to listen better.