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EDITORIAL: Input ignored

A City of St. John’s snowclearing crew member clears and salts a section of sidewalk on Empire Avenue in the Rabbittown area on Wednesday morning.
A city crew member clears a section of sidewalk on Empire Avenue in St. John's. Telegram file photo

It’s the opposite of how public engagement is supposed to work.

You have a problem: you ask for community involvement — help from the public to work out a better way to deliver services to the city.

Here’s the theory: “The City of St. John’s wants to build a new approach to public engagement – one that facilitates dialogue with the right people, using the right tools.”

Here’s the practice: the city asked for, and received, plenty of information about sidewalk snowclearing. And at this point, the recommended choice of action is, well, nothing.

The city heard about the need for safety and consistency, for sidewalk plowing not to end mid-block, forcing walkers into streets. The city heard about problems with a lack of co-ordination between sidewalk and street plowing that sees street plows fill in sidewalks, sometimes as soon as the sidewalks are cleared. The city heard about the problems of blind corners and sightlines, about the problems of private contractors filling in sidewalks when they clear private lots. There were points made about whether clearing both sides of Columbus Drive was necessary, and whether plowing just one side could allow the city to reallocate resources.

No adjustment, no changes, no realignments of a system that isn’t working. No new ideas.

There were suggestions that the routes being cleared could be better communicated, and how having 161 kilometres of Priority 1 sidewalks means that walkers have no way of knowing when and if a particular Priority 1 route will be cleared so that they can make alternate arrangements.

In other words, a huge volume of concerns and suggestions for improvement were offered, some of which would involve city investment, while others simply required a more careful stewardship of existing city resources.

The recommended course of action from city staff? Well, it would be better described as the recommended course of inaction: it’s “that council maintain the status quo. Given future anticipated budget challenges, enhancing the level of service for sidewalks is not recommended. The minimal cost option to produce a noticeable difference to residents is ($700,000) per year which is not budgeted.”

No adjustment, no changes, no realignments of a system that isn’t working. No new ideas. Instead, everything founders because the options the city’s staff chose to consider were too expensive.

Thank you for your input, which we will now ignore. Your suggestions for improvement are important to us, which is why we will address none of them.

Wednesday, council members — with the notable exception of councillors Maggie Burton and Ian Froude and Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary — agreed not to proceed with major changes, but did agree to leave the door open for fine-tuning.

Why waste the public’s time?

And what does ignoring the time and effort people took to offer options mean the next time the city asks the public to step in and engage?

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