Wellesley councillors reaching out for community input at series of public forums

[From File]

Aiming to increase communication with residents, Wellesley Township will hold four community information forums over the next two months.

Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak says community consultation was originally recommended for the recreation department in the Wellesley community parks, recreation, and culture strategic master plan, but they think there’s a wider scope to be looked at.

“I think it’s important that we reach out to the community and try to hear what’s on their mind, but also sort of to indicate what we’re up to. At each of these forums we’re going to have our staff, we’re going to have the roads department, the recreation department, the building department. They’re all going to set up a little bit of an area where they can answer questions. People can drop by and they can say when’s this road going to be paved or what’s the timeline for this and the timeline for that. So it’s all about sharing the information, letting them know what we are up to and they can express their concerns to us as well at the same time,” Nowak said.

He says when he was first elected he mentioned to chief administrative officer Rik Louwagie the township should be doing more community consultation and the council tended to agree with him, so they moved forward on this.

As for expectations of these forums, he says there may be new ideas they haven’t heard of or thought of out there in the community.

“So it’s going to be invaluable I think for staff to know what’s on people’s minds. At the same time there’s citizens out there that are probably concerned about issues and this way they can sort of determine when they’re going to be dealt with or how they’re going to be dealt with or if they’re going to be dealt with. So it’s just a communication thing really. The benefit, well it’s community building. I guess that’s the best way to describe it. We’re all working together, we’re all working for the same reason,” Nowak said.

They sent out invitations to other community groups to join them, like the various service clubs, and the horticultural society. They’ll be able to set up a table to show what they do in the community and maybe attract some new volunteers. The only requirement is that someone from each organization is there to man the table and answer questions.

“Our staff are going to be in the peripheral as well answering questions. At each of the forums myself and the ward councillor are going to have a separate area beside where I will sit down with the councillor. It’s an opportunity for them to talk directly to myself and to the councillor. There could be things that they disagree with,” Nowak said.

He says it’s all about creating an open dialogue. They’ll be recording comments from the public and collating them so they can see how their master plans are progressing or if there need to be adjustments made.

“Knowledge is very important, it’s very important for us to know what’s on people’s minds. There’s a number of issues that are going to be coming up front and centre, the fire department master plan has just been completed. I know there’s a lot of people with different opinions with regards to that, especially in St. Clements. Do we build new, do we renovate? Issues like that will be discussed I’m sure. We’ll be able to get some feedback on that,” Nowak said.

Another issue brought to the forefront is whether the township should build trails or not. A group went to council on Tuesday night as a delegation to express their desire for the township to not build trails in their backyards.

“There’s going to be some discussion on trail development [at council]. That’s going to be fairly controversial, I would think. This will be an opportunity for people township-wide to have some input on whether we move forward or not move forward with trails because there are quite a few issues with that. I just think it’s invaluable to have that consultation,” Nowak said.

He notes the recreation master plan identified active transportation and walking trails as leisure activities that as many as 87 per cent of those who responded to the survey were “very much in favour of.” But you often run across problems with trails because no matter where you put a trail it’s going to be in somebody’s backyard.

“That’s just the nature of a trail. And it would appear that anybody’s backyard that you’re going to back onto is going to be objecting to it and that was the reason I think the last proposal with the last council was ultimately defeated. Do you build trails or do you not build trails? At some point in time you have to make a decision. If it’s never going to be allowed in somebody’s backyard then the whole idea of walking trails is going to be in jeopardy,” Nowak said.

Free hot dogs, sausages, and refreshments will be available at the four forums, and Nowak’s hopeful they’ll get a good crowd.

“It’s really a matter of being open and it’s really a matter of being transparent and it’s really a matter of politicians tend to be accused of doing things behind closed doors. I just want to reassure people that that’s not what we do in Wellesley township,” Nowak said.

The first forum runs Apr. 5 at the Wellesley Community Centre. They will all run from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Coun, Peter van der Maas will be there, along with Nowak who will attend all four forums. The other three are Apr. 13 at the St. Clements Community Centre (Carl Smit), May 17 at the Linwood Recreation Complex (Herb Neher), and May 25 at the Hawkesville Community Centre (Shelley Wagner).

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