Among the popular political buzzwords these days are phrases like "community engagement" and "public consultation."
Voters want a say in major decisions that affect them, and the politicians are listening. Or at least they're putting on a show of listening.
The City of Kamloops just wrapped up the last of its three public budget sessions last week in its effort to get feedback on what residents want council to spend money on - or not.
Attendance by "the masses" varied depending on the department up for discussion. Police, fire and bylaws drew an audience of 30, while parks, recreation and culture saw 50 and utilities - water, sewer and garbage collection - had the biggest crowd at 60.
That's not enormous, given Kamloops is home to about 90,000 people.
The audiences consisted of a core of "usual suspects," that is, people who are bound to show up for any chance to raise their particular concerns with council, mixed with a few newcomers.
Most of those who spoke asked about issues affecting their part of town or something of interest to them. There was little discussion on topics affecting the city as a whole.
There's still a decision-making meeting on March 12. The public is invited to attend that budget session, but won't get to speak. The civic politicians will take what they gleaned at the public meetings and pick and choose budget items for this year.
But what about the people who solicit council members' ears during other times of the year? Is someone who tells the mayor in July that a sidewalk in a certain neighbourhood is vital for safety going to be ignored because he or she didn't go to the right public budget session? Is the community association that has several volunteers lobbying all of council more likely to get that park than another neighbourhood that has fewer voices but also fewer parks?
Council has a tough juggle on its hands and there will be some people who will be happy with budget decisions and some who will not.
The squeaky wheel shouldn't always get the oil, but for anyone to be heard, they have to show up and speak up so council knows their needs. City politicians are people, not mind readers.
On that note, council has two more public consultations/community engagement sessions coming up this month.
On Saturday, Feb. 23, talk will centre on the possibility of a new performing arts centre. It's slated for the Tournament Capital Centre from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Three days later, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, downtown parking is up for discussion at the Interior Savings Centre starting at 7 p.m.
Yes, it's a lot to ask residents to give up time on a weekend or an evening to go to a City-run meeting. Those who can't make it can probably send in an email or make a phone call to a council member to raise important points.
If we don't speak out, we have no right to complain. No one said democracy would be convenient.
Will you be heard? Yes. Will council agree with what you want? Not necessarily. If municipal politicians went by every request they get, the loudest voices would be running the town.
Some believe it's more about optics than a genuine effort to find out what the masses want. And in some cases, that might be true.
It's what we've got for now. And if you have any ideas of how to improve it, let council know. Loud and clear.
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