Township of Langley Coun. Charlie Fox (left) and Kim Richter. Submitted photos

New Community Input Group Task Force sparks heated debate from council

Fox says task force will help council engage with residents; Richter says it is ‘disruptive’

The Township of Langley is launching a new Community Input Group Task Force, following a heated debate by council.

The task force — which residents can now apply for — will consist of 15 community members, one person from the Langley Environmental Partners Society, one chairperson and all nine members of council. All applications will be sent to council for review and selection.

The idea came from Coun. Charlie Fox, who presented the motion to council at their last meeting on March 19.

The intent, he said, is to provide another platform for residents in each of the Township’s communities to offer input and identify issues.

However, not all of council agreed. Fox’s motion passed in a 5-4 vote, with Councillors Petrina Arnason, Kim Richter, David Davis and Bob Long opposed.

Richter called it “disruptive” and “despicable.”

“On the one hand, we don’t want to talk about the tree bylaw because it’s so important and it’s going to take a lot of staff time. But, on the other hand, we’re going to throw together a community input task force that is going to be political and partisan because it will be populated by friends and insiders of a certain portion — a majority portion — of this council,” Richter said.

READ MORE: Township-wide tree bylaw to be determined by future council

“These community associations have started up because they’re not happy with this council. Do you think this is going to make them happy with council? I think this is just going to infuriate them. It’s a stupid motion and I’m not supporting it.”

Mayor Jack Froese asked Richter to keep her words respectful.

“I guess I would question the degree to which we need another layer of information,” Arnason added.

“And what does that mean with respect to … which community group shall we listen to? So in this case, would we listen to the pre-vetted ones where we’ve sort of cherry picked the individuals who are going to be on it, as opposed to maybe a different community view from members who I think could be equally legitimate in their opinion?

“I’m perfectly content, myself, to listen to grassroots groups, whoever wants to come forward. I think that’s our job. I’m a conduit to what the community has to say and I don’t think, personally, this would be helpful.”

Davis said he was confused by the intent of the task force.

“It’s our job to answer residents and their emails and phone calls, and I’m just wondering if this committee would minimize … delegations. This is the people’s hall. People want to come up there and they want to question,” he said.

Fox explained that his motion mirrors what he heard at the Thriving or Surviving: What is a socially sustainable community? panel on March 15. The event featured industry panelists who talked about social issues like homelessness, substance abuse and inclusivity.

READ MORE: Township hosts panel on social sustainability

“Local government has to take the role in convening, that’s what has to happen — those are their words, not mine,” Fox said.

“Intersectoral discussions need to happen, groups can’t operate in silos — their words, not mine. You need to initiate dialogues and listen — their words not mine. Dialogues happen around a table. To have a collective impact, you have to engage groups of different people to develop social sustainability. That’s what I heard Thursday night.

“My intent in this is to actually get people engaged, it’s actually to get people sitting down and talking.”

Coun. Blair Whitmarsh agreed.

“This is, to me, a good approach to try to bring people together from all different facets of our community,” Whitmarsh said.

“When we are elected, we’re elected to represent all of the Township of Langley — and not just a specific community or a special interest group — to represent everybody.

“And yet it’s difficult to bring all members of every single association together, so this is a way to bring people from those associations to hear from the voice of those people there.”

Coun. Angie Quaale thought the motion spoke to a recent delegation from resident Barbara Sharp, who asked council to provide financial support to community associations.

READ MORE: Community associations seek funding from council

“I think this motion, by adding the other community groups, adds a layer of input that Barb Sharp didn’t necessarily ask for, but it expands the boundaries,” Quaale said.

“We have to be mindful that the people in residents’ associations aren’t the only people with opinions about our community. There’s lots of other people who would like to have input. So I think this is a really good start.”

Coun. Michelle Sparrow said she attended the same session on social sustainability as Fox, and gathered many of the same conclusions.

“I really took a lot from it as well, [particularly] the comments that he brought up about working together and our role in facilitating the community to be engaged,” Sparrow said.

“I think this is just another layer, and I say that as a positive. I think this is a positive thing, it is another opportunity, another layer for the public to engage.”

Long, however, had a different view.

“Community associations want autonomy,” he said. “They’re put together by members of the community and they want to have an autonomous agenda. It’s not for us to try and get involved. It’s just not where we belong.”

Mayor Froese said the motion shows that council respects community associations and the work they do.

“I think asking community associations to provide a representation to something like this for council is not a bad thing,” Froese said.

“We still want to encourage community associations to continue working. They’re providing a valuable service… This isn’t replacing them, this is just an ability to reach out.”

Richter still disagreed.

“Let’s not dress this up as a silk purse,” Richter said.

“What this is is a sanitized way to engage the public. We’re going to talk to them, but we will talk to them on our terms. And the other thing that maybe the public doesn’t understand is when people get put on these committees, we all get a vote. And the majority vote decides who goes on the committee. Well, let’s just take a look at the voting record of this council and I think you’re going to see whose friends get on this committee.”

“Point of order,” Quaale intervened.

Froese added that when council does vote on the committee members, it is done in a closed meeting by secret ballot.

“And there’s no pre-discussion that ever goes on,” Richter interjected.

“Excuse me, I have the floor Coun. Richter, and I would ask you not to interrupt,” Froese said.

“I’m trying to explain to the public that it’s secret ballot and that council has an opportunity to vote. And I’ve seen — in all my time when we’ve selected all of our committee members — a variety of people come on, and I really take offence that you say this is fixed or rigged in some way. This whole council votes, we’re all independent, there are no political parties here. We’re independent, we all run on independence and I take offence to that. And I believe that we are doing the best job we possible can to include the community.

“And furthermore, I find it extremely difficult to understand why members of council fight public engagement … This is an attempt to include the community, and I would encourage that the residential associations submit names because we want to include the community. We can’t include everybody, but if it’s properly facilitated, we can get some great information to help this council move the municipality forward.”

“Well, I guess I’ve really struck a nerve today,” Fox said.

“I’m sitting in a wonderful spot at this table. I’ve never sensed such negativity. My name’s Charlie Fox and I’m a council member, obviously some of my council member [colleagues] significantly dislike me and any motion I put forward. This was a motion that I derived over a 10-day period. I submitted it actually on Monday or Tuesday. I went to a session on Thursday, it validated absolutely everything I tried to embody in this motion. I’ve brought that up in my comments. It’s unfortunate that Councillor Richter, you weren’t there to hear the learned scholars put forward the information that was there.”

“Point of order Mr. Mayor, come on. You allow personal attacks on me all the time from members of this council,” Richter said, while Froese tried to speak over her.

“You need to stop that. You need to stop it. You need to apply the same rules to everybody.”

“Councillor Richter would you please calm down?” Froese retorted.

“You asked for a point of order, and I need to rule. If you keep talking over me I cannot rule. Councillor Fox keep your comments to the motion please. Thank you very much.”

“Well, I think it’s tough to keep your comments to the motion when you have been derogatorily analyzed,” Fox said.

“Anyway, you know what folks? Bottom line is, do we want to engage the public and get them involved in this intersectoral discussion, or do we not? I don’t care, I put this forward because I thought it was a good thing. I thought it was an engaging thing. I mean, if you don’t want it, if you don’t want public engagement, fine. Move on.

“People are reading into my motion that there’s a negative intent and all this. It’s not. It’s coming from a constructive context. It’s coming from an engagement context. Vote the way you want. Call it what you want, I’m only trying to be positive and move the agenda forward based upon what we’ve seen come forward from the community associations and so on. I think it could have an absolutely positive outcome.”

To watch the full discussion, click here.

•••

On March 29, the Township issued a press release asking people to apply for the Community Input Group Task Force.

One representative is being sought from each of Langley’s communities: Aldergrove, Brookswood-Fernridge, Fort Langley, Murrayville, the rural area, Walnut Grove, and Willoughby-Willowbrook.

One representative from the business community, business association, or business improvement association from each of the communities is also needed, along with one representative from the agricultural community and one from the recreation and culture community.

To apply, visit tol.ca/cigtf. Application deadline is 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 16.

Members will be required to attend three monthly meetings on weekday evenings from approximately from April to July. Meeting dates are to be determined.



miranda@langleytimes.com

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