Committee members concerned recommendations to council disappear

Members of Abbotsford's social advisory committee say recommendations ‘disappear into a void’

Members of the Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee hope to see changes in the way the city responds to advice from its committees.

Members of the Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee hope to see changes in the way the city responds to advice from its committees.

Members of the Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC) have raised concerns that their recommendations have not been heeded by council.

The city created ASDAC in 2006 to provide advice to council on social issues, and help guide the city’s social planning function.

The concerns were raised at a special meeting of ASDAC, held last week to discuss homeless initiatives in response to an incident in which Abbotsford city workers dumped chicken manure on a homeless camp.

Wayne Green of the United Way noted that several recommendations made earlier by the committee have not been acted on by the city.

“I really want to see this committee functioning at a high level and city council and city staff respecting the work that we do,” said Green.

The City of Abbotsford website states that ASDAC provides advice and helps to build Abbotsford’s legacy as “a community that cares about all community members, including its most vulnerable and marginalized citizens.”

ASDAC chair John Sutherland agreed with Green that their advice has not been acted upon.

“So many things we recommend disappear into a void. We don’t know where they go and we don’t know why they are ignored.”

The city’s director of communications, Katherine Jeffcoatt, stated that committee recommendations should normally be brought to council through a staff report, but “historically, this process has not always been followed.”

Jeffcoatt stated that some of ASDAC’s recommendations were contained only in the committee minutes, which are then simply received by council.

Sutherland told The News that ASDAC intends to hold a meeting in July to prepare recommendations on homelessness, saying they don’t “want to lose momentum on this issue.”

Sutherland said ASDAC had noticed over the last year that their advice was not being addressed by council.

He met with new city manager George Murray – who is a non-voting member of ASDAC – about a month ago to talk about improving the relationship between committees and council.

Murray said the process for bringing recommendations from committees to council is currently being reviewed to establish a consistent practice.

Sutherland said two changes are needed to ensure committees are being used to their full potential. He said when council receives recommendations, they should respond to the committee with an idea about what they will do based on the recommendations and a timeline on which it will occur.

He also said it is important to hold face-to-face meetings between committee members and councillors, where they can share their expertise and engage with council.

“I think we’ve proved that we can be a valuable asset in a crisis, and we hope that (the city) will see it that way, and encourage us and continue to draw upon our expertise.”

Coun. Bill MacGregor, who serves as ASDAC’s vice-chair, said last week’s meeting led to resolutions, including a plan to “reactivate” the housing working group, which, four years ago, helped put together the homeless camp closure protocol that is supposed to be used by the city. MacGregor said council will now entertain the recommendations made by the committee.

“It will be brought back to mayor and council in terms of how committees are formed, what is their raison d’etre, and how much stock are we going to put in it,” he said, adding that this will be a “complete laundering of what committees are currently doing, and what we need them to do in the future.”

MacGregor said it is important for committees to have clear mandates, and clarity of purpose and vision.