Port McNeill in Focus: Local government needs to value and capitalize on community input, not ignore it

Council are the ones who make the decisions and control the purse strings.

Committees and commissions. Every town or city worth its salt has them, and so does the Town of Port McNeill, well… sort of.

The 1925 Town Planning Act started the long history of the public sitting on Advisory Planning Commissions (APC). Commissions provide advice on matters referred by town council. No referrals – no advice given. Do not fear commissions and committees, by their nature they are explicitly powerless, they merely recommend.

Council are the ones who make the decisions and control the purse strings.

Since the town’s web site only lists agenda and meeting minutes dating back to 2016, I could not dig back digitally any further, but I have it on good authority that the APC has not been called upon in a long time.

I should know, as I currently seem to be the town’s lone APC member. If you can find the APC on the town’s website there is a “Join the Team” button. I guess nobody clicks on it, mayor and council included, as my last APC correspondence is from 2011.

Back in the day, we had a full roster of active community members working on planning issues. We were tasked with updating the (then) outdated Official Community Plan. The detailed report and implementation plan produced were not well received, to say the least. The OCP revamp was stopped in its tracks.

The APC was asked to weigh in on matters like Island Timberland’s Beach Camp area rezoning, that APC report didn’t even find its way into the councillor’s inboxes, let alone be made public.

The referrals to the APC dried up – no APC referrals – no APC advice given.

Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

There is no point being on a commission without a mission or task, especially when the work being done is not valued or respected.

The formerly dedicated APC members dropped from the commission like flies.

Seven years go by and not one planning issue is worthy of additional (APC) input? Really? In my opinion, no matter how you slice it, that is a failure on several fronts – economic development, planning, and community consultation.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been bylaw and planning changes. BC’s Community Charter presents options for municipal governments to sneak out of APC referrals, as long as the broad objectives of the OCP are met. Good plan, referring back to our out dated 21-year-old Official Community Plan.

Port McNeil’s Harbour Advisory Committee (HAC) seems to have suffered the same fate as the as the APC.

No publicly posted agendas, minutes, or reports on the books, no HAC mandate from council, no real input, no meetings in over a year, and disbanded membership.

Port McNeill council recently approved the town’s five year plan which includes $205,000 of new Harbour spending, including $40,000 budgeted for a Harbour Plan.

A harbour bylaw review has been in the works for over a year.

I’m sure the town staff are qualified and have provided good advice based on their resources and expertise, but the HAC members are the boots on the ground.

They are down at the docks all the time. To not refer a five year plan, bylaw review, or formal Harbour Plan to the HAC seems ridiculous to me.

Other cities and towns have all sorts of commissions and committees, to name a few: Operating Service, Parks/Recreation, Culture/Heritage, Tourism, Health and my favorite, the Bicycle Advisory Commission. As we work toward being a more “age-friendly community” where are the seniors and youth committees? Don’t get me started on committee of the whole.

How about a School with no PAC, how does that sound?

The town’s previous administration used to boast that the best decisions are made by a “committee of one.”

I am not sure much has changed in the last four years. As we (still) transition from camp to community, we need to jump on the recent surge of new ideas, community pride, change and optimism, the likes of which I haven’t seen in my 18 years in Port McNeill. I wish I could say it was coming from the top down, but I don’t think it is.

Local government needs to value and capitalize on community input, not ignore it.

Derek Koel is a local businessman, residing in Port McNeill since 2000. Over the years he has served on many local boards, committees, and organizations. He is a father of two, and is interested in healthy living, outdoor recreation, and local issues in the community.

* The views and opinions expressed in this opinion-editorial are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Black Press or the North Island Gazette. If you have a different opinion, we request you write to us to contribute to the conversation.

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