Monthly White Rock community forums kick off with packed room

WHITE ROCK — If you organize it, they will come.

That was the situation on March 7 when the first of Coun. Dave Chesney’s monthly “Community Conversations” took place, drawing 55 people.

“We packed the room and it was beyond my wildest expectations,” said Chesney. “One of the things that was really pleasing to me was the majority of the people that made up the crowd, I didn’t know personally and they were just ordinary residents that responded in kind. People were just thrilled with the opportunity.”

The talk was the first in what’s set to become a series of ongoing monthly community discussions, all set in what Chesney described as a “casual, informal setting.”

Coun. Helen Fathers also attended the meeting, during which residents outlined waste collection as being one of their biggest concerns.

“(The city) already made the decision to contract out commercial and multi-residential garbage pickup and judging by the feedback, people are very confused about what’s going on,” recalled Chesney.

He said while commercial owners seem to be fine with the privatization of waste collection, condo owners aren’t exactly sure how the change will affect them.

“They are very concerned about what this is going to do, are they going to have to incur these costs – will that be reflected in their taxes?” he said, noting residents with single homes are also concerned.

Chesney said he was disappointed that he and Fathers were the only council members present.

“I did invite all the council members and reiterated again as we were leading up to it that the meeting was happening and that I hoped they could all attend. They chose not to,” he said.

Mayor Wayne Baldwin said he did not feel it was necessary to attend the meeting as council was in the midst of preparing its own community forums.

He likened Chesney’s meetings as being similar to the Coffee with Catherine meetings that former Mayor Catherine Ferguson used to host.

“So she would go to a local coffee shop and chat with people and I don’t know how effective that was,” he said.

“Basically, it’s a vehicle to make someone more approachable but it’s also a vehicle to promote yourself and I’m not interested in promoting any one member of council. I’m more interested in council as a whole.

“If I’m going to one I’m going to one that’s sanctioned by council and organized by council as opposed to one that’s organized by another member of council.”

To that end, Baldwin said a three-member committee of councillors, which includes Chesney and Fathers, is currently working on creating a city-endorsed forum in which members of the public can come out to engage council.

“So it may take the form of a monthly or bi-monthly forum where some or all members of council attend and provide an opportunity for people to talk if they feel like they want to,” the mayor explained.

“It will be done in a very non-threatening environment so people won’t have to get up and speak in front of a whole bunch of people. We’ll have conversations instead of speeches.”

Baldwin said the city-endorsed meetings would likely come before council in about a month and start shortly afterwards, pending a favourable vote.

In the meantime, the second Community Conversation is set for April 4.

“Hopefully this thing will grow very organically, there’s template for it,” Chesney said.  “I don’t want to refer to it as my community conversations, it’s our community conversations.”

The next Community Conversation takes place on April 4 at the White Rock Library at 10 a.m.

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