The decision at Monday's council meeting to approve rezoning to allow a new group home has been causing a fair amount of comment in the local newspaper. I don't think that the problem was with the decision - it was the process that was followed to get there, not helped by the lack of sympathy or respect that was shown to residents who came to council to complain.
If you've done any reading about conflict resolution, you'll know that most conflict about decision-making isn't because of the actual decision, it comes from the process that was used to come to that decision. In this case, it sounds as though concerned residents weren't given clear information about what was being discussed, they were led to believe that the decision was a done deal, and they felt intimidated when they asked for more information. The timeline between when information went out and when the decision was made was short. When residents came to address council, they were not listened to respectfully, but told that they were wrong to even voice these concerns. This does not give us the image of being a thoughtful, open council.
Perhaps this storm could have been avoided if, instead of communicating an impending change by sending out letters and expecting residents to seek out the proponent to ask questions on their own, we instead had meetings well before a decision which included both area residents and project proponents. Questions could then be asked and answered directly, with all parties hearing the discussion. It would probably be less intimidating to ask questions in a smaller meeting, rather than in front of cameras at a council meeting. And all present would hear the same facts, rather than only one side. There may still be residents who don't want this type of home in their neighbourhood, but they could not complain that they were given insufficient information beforehand, or that we did not try to accommodate their concerns.
Sure, it would take a little longer, and might cost the city a bit for a meeting room and coffee. But the time saved in the long run, and the prevention of further blackening the image of council, would be priceless, as the commercials say.
For the record, I voted in support of rezoning to allow the group home in this neighbourhood, for a number of reasons. These homes are badly needed, and I think that they should be located all over the city, rather than having them segregated in one or two neighbourhoods. I think that many of the fears that people have about group homes are exaggerated based on lack of information and experience, and that the only way to become more open as a society is to work towards integration, and increasing our tolerance of differences. But I hope that we have learned that the way that we make decisions is as important as the decisions themselves.
The new community plan, Plan Prince Albert, passed almost anticlimactically later in the meeting. I was the only councillor to speak on the subject, raising my concerns about its lack of specifics. No-one from the public commented, possibly because council has not been accepting of criticism in the past. Too bad, because I got the feeling that nobody really cared, or felt that there was any point in commenting. Perhaps people feel that this is a council where decisions have been made before we even go into the meeting - that is not a good thing.
"The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: 'I did not have time'." - Franklin Field