Today St. Norbert Councillor Janice Lukes will introduce a motion at City Council that will improve access to information for Councillors and the general public, including off-leash area green space advocates like the Winnipeg Network of Dog Owner Groups.
If approved, Councillor Lukes’s motion will ensure that City Councillors and the public have access to administrative reports at least four business days before they are discussed in committee meetings. The existing bylaw states that agendas and reports should be available at least 96 hours before meetings but that time-frame often includes evenings and weekends when the public service is not available to answer questions about the reports they have prepared.
The amendment, seconded by Elmwood – East Kildonan Councillor Jason Schreyer, will give Councillors more time to read the reports, and allow them to make more well-informed decisions. It will also allow the public to be more involved in decision-making processes.
WINNIPEG Network of Dog Owner Groups fully endorses Councillor Lukes’s motion. WINDOG’s submission to City Council supporting the amendment to Section 10(3) of Procedure By-law No. 50/2007 reads as follows:
The Winnipeg Network of Dog Owners Groups wishes to speak in support of Councillor Janice Lukes’s motion to amend Section 10(3) of the Procedure By-law No. 50/2007 to change the timeframe for posting agendas and distributing supporting material for committee meetings from a minimum of 96 hours to a minimum of 4 business days.
The change will provide Council members a more reasonable amount of time to review and reflect on administrative reports, seek clarity from the public service, and provide thoughtful, meaningful input into decision-making and policy creation.
From the perspective of a not-for-profit corporation, it will also allow the public to be more engaged regarding issues that matter to us by giving citizens more time to review documents and register to appear as delegations.
As a dog park activist who has attended her fair share of committee meetings, I have seen how the current 96-hour window works against public engagement and leads to poor decisions being taken at City Hall.
For example, on Thursday, May 8, 2014 the new guidelines for Winnipeg dog parks were released to the public – a mere four days, including a weekend – before the Standing Policy Committee on Protection, Community Services and Parks met to approve them.
Of all the stakeholders who had an interest in the matter, only two – WINDOG and the Winnipeg Humane Society – had the resources to review, digest and analyse the contents of the seventy-page document, develop submissions, and make last minute arrangements to appear as walk-in delegations before the Committee.
Both organizations spoke in opposition to the proposed guidelines, objecting to the complete lack of public consultation, identifying inaccurate assumptions, gaps in information, and other deficiencies. The guidelines failed to provide what was required – a framework for the creation, management, and protection of the city’s off-leash dog parks.
Four days later – on Monday morning, May 12 – when the Standing Committee met, it was clear from the questions that the Councillors asked the Director of Public Works – and from Mr. Sacher’s responses – that most, if not all, had not had time to read the document. Nevertheless the Committee voted to approve the guidelines.
With the benefit of an extra week to review the report, the Executive Policy Committee reached the same conclusion as WINDOG and the Humane Society, noting that the guidelines were flawed, that the report didn’t go far enough to deal with the issues, and that the City had not done a good job in consulting with a broad cross-section of dog owners and other stakeholders.
Three years later and the off-leash dog park saga still is not over. The City paid approximately $20,000 for a report that it ultimately did not approve. Another $100,000 was allocated in this year’s budget for a comprehensive off-leash dog park master plan that will address the deficiencies in the 2014 guidelines. A consultant has been hired, stakeholder meetings have been held, and public consultations are scheduled to occur in the fall.
When the Off-Leash Dog Park Master Plan comes to Council for approval next winter, WINDOG hopes that today’s important by-law amendment will mean that the public will have sufficient time to review, digest and analyse it, and decide if they wish to provide feedback by appearing in delegation. For those that do, the amendment will go a long way in ensuring they have sufficient time to take their questions to the public service, get the answers they seek, and prepare their submissions.
WINDOG encourages City Council to support Councillor Luke’s motion. Our Board believes it will result in more informed decisions being made at City Hall and that it will save taxpayers money.
President – WINDOG Inc.