I've recently returned from facilitating community conversation events in Fruitvale, Grand Forks and Cranbrook, on a contract with the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments. 

This has been a challenging project, as I was involved in the organization and promotion of the events as well as in the presentation.  Fortunately, I asked as part of my contract to be connected with a Local Expert in each community -- someone who could answer my questions about the community, handle local logistics, be there on the night, and generally be my point person.  These three wonderful women were enthusiastic and effective, and the project would not be possible without them.

When you haven't been there for a while, you forget how stunningly beautiful this part of B.C. is.  And, of course, they were already showing signs of spring, which were sadly lacking in Banff in early March.  The only thing better than the spring weather was the enthusiastic and collaborative participation of the people who came out for the evenings.  I don't often get the comment "the meeting should have been longer" on evaluation forms, but I did in these three communities!

The questions they were working on revolved around the interests of their communities in this, a municipal election year.  So we explored what the "hot topic" issues are in each community, what facts one would need to know to have an informed discussion about those issues, and what we can do to encourage people to engage in the election, as candidates, as informed members of the public, and as voters.  I'm just working on the written report now, but the councillors in attendance were already talking about how they could implement some of the great ideas they heard around citizen engagement.

I'm looking forward to presenting the final report from this project at the AKBLG annual general meeting in Creston in early April.  We'll be talking about the answers that came from participants, and also about the organization, promotion and session design and what tweaks should be made if this is to be extended to other communities in the region. 


I'm heading to Golden for the latest Community Conversation.  This one should be lively!  We're talking about "value for money" and how you decide when you're getting good value, both in your private life and -- more particularly -- in the services you get from your town.  We'll also delve into the prickly area of public debt, whether there is "good" public debt and "bad" public debt, and how to tell the difference.  I'm expecting a lively discussion and lots of differing opinions!

One of the ways that I judge "value for money" when it comes to our annual property taxes and Town utility bills is to take a moment to think about what it would cost me to provide each of those services independently.  What if I had to have a well for water, a septic field for sewage, if I had to hire a private security firm to police my area, and a private set of contractors to provide fire protection.  What if my neighbours and I had to hire a contractor each year to plough our street, sweep the gravel up in the spring, and fill our potholes.  What if ... well, you get the drift.  Of course, I also keep track of how much the total dollar figure changes from year to year, and whether I agree with the services that are being added.

I also need my municipality to be transparent -- to publish budgets and audited financial statements and to answer questions about services.  After all, if they're doing a great job and saving me money, they'll be proud to make that information available!


On Tuesday, I'm heading to B.C. for the kick-off meeting for an exciting new project with the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments.  We'll be piloting a citizen engagement approach in three communities, with the potential that it may -- if it's well-received -- roll out to many more.  I'm looking forward to working with the mayors and councillors to make these evening events lively, informative and well-attended. 

Yesterday, I was part of an Ideas Bank panel about parking in Banff.  No surprise there, except that this panel discussion was being recorded by the new Banff Centre Radio program http://www.banffcentre.ca/radio/  I was delighted to be asked and I applaud Dominic Girard, Julia Pagel, Camara Miller and the other radio staffers for working hard to create topical content that is "made in Banff and shared with the world".

Marino Dimanno, Ryan Bosinger and I, with Ideas Bank moderator Nigel Sainsbury, had a great time dissecting the history of the parking problem and kicking around the future possibilities.  Of course, we had the luxury of imagining unlimited budgets!  Should we hollow out the high school field to create underground parking covered by grass?  Build forest-covered mounds on the edges of town that conceal intercept lots?  Should we declare the town to be "full up" every now and then?  Or will the non-car culture of the present crop of 20-somethings solve the problem?  Does our future include paid parking and free transit? 

I look forward to a broader and very lively public discussion as the Town's transportation management plan ideas continue to come before Council in the next months.

"Citizenship is a tough occupation which obliges the citizen to make his own informed opinion and stand by it."
Martha Gellhorn

On Wednesday, I'll be in Golden for the latest Community Conversation.  This one will examine what it takes to be a good citizen, and will challenge all participants to find the ways we can be good citizens in 2014. 

I love this topic, because it's one I think about a lot.  In a time when so many fail to carry out even the most basic duty of a citizen -- the duty to vote -- it's inspiring to think about the people who do so much more than the basics.  Reading about issues, providing input to decisions, volunteering on committees, working in support of candidates, offering themselves as candidates for election:  the people who do these things are guardians of democracy. 

As the Emily Fund website says:  "Be a hero for a better world".