Melissa De Genova: Consultation at Vancouver City Hall has become a joke and it’s time for a change!

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      On days when council meets at Vancouver City Hall, the mayor and city councillors can often expect to be there for 15 hours or more from 8:30 a.m. to late.

      Marathon days can involve early-morning appointments, followed by council meetings that run straight into public hearings!

      Over the past term, regularly scheduled breaks were rare. The two-hour break in the afternoon consists of a working lunch, where staff shuffle in and out of what is best described as a “holding room” waiting to present in-camera reports. By early evening, low-blood sugar and marathon meetings have often produced cranky council members.

      These meetings are infamous for turning council chambers into a verbal war zone, where insults are hurled back and forth. This isn’t the way anyone would run a large company, but this is the way the government (who also manages the annual operating budget of over $1.5 billion of your money) ran its schedule.

      This went beyond a human-resources issue and it became an issue of marginalization—not for councillors, but for the public. Attending traffic court to fight a ticket can be less strenuous. If you could afford to take a day or two off from work, or secure 12 hours or more of child care, and sit in the council chambers all day long… you may have five whole minutes to speak to council on the agenda item you signed up for days in advance.

      I can’t count the number of emails I have received in four years from people who desperately wanted to present to council on issues that would change their lives or force them out of their homes. Most could not afford to take the time to do so. These people were senior citizens and Vancouver City Hall was either too far away, or they were parents who did not have endless childcare.

      Then there were the millennials who spent their days and nights working or in school. For example, in the case of my mentorship for millennials motion, the chair of the meeting abruptly changed the agenda item from 9:30 a.m. to “the end of the meeting”. Speakers couldn’t stay for what ended up being seven hours.

      Is this fair? The taxpayers, renters, small business owners and residents of Vancouver pay council members' salaries, but consultation and hearing from the public has been a shell game—and Vancouverites who signed up to speak to an issue rarely won!

      How can council vote inside chambers at Vancouver City Hall on a motion for family housing on a Tuesday, at 10:30 a.m., when parents are working to pay their rent or mortgage? How does council decide to put a bike lane right next to the B.C. Cancer Agency but not consult the patients? The motto was always the same: “You come to us, we won’t come to you.”

      This election has brought up themes including millennials in local government and women in politics. However, as the first millennial to ever be elected to Vancouver city council, it was not easy! Also, as a new mom, I know that city hall isn’t family friendly. I returned to work 10 days after having my baby, and I had to fight tooth and nail to get most council members to agree to 20-minute breaks every 3 hours so I could breastfeed or pump for my newborn baby.

      Leading up to the election there has been lots of talk about encouraging young women and mothers to run for office, but there is no basic support  (including on-site child care at city hall).

      Council candidates should run city hall like we run for election. Campaigns have excellent tools to reach out and engage with people by door-knocking and mainstreeting. All candidate meetings are held in the community, yet council only meets at city hall.

      Meaningful consultation and public engagement need to continue past election day. We must develop strategies where busy parents can learn about projects in their neighbourhoods (hello Facebook ads!) and be given meaningful opportunities for input and to have their voices heard. We need to continue, meeting after meeting, to earn the respect of our bosses—the people of our city.

      With technology, compassion, and the desire to hear from people, city hall can engage with the public and serve the people who are working to be able to afford to live in our city. We need to hold regular council meetings citywide, in different neighbourhoods. Maybe we could even try an open microphone hour at city hall for a few hours every month, or a few weekend meetings for people working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

      I am seeking reelection because I am committed to delivering a more affordable city for people living in Vancouver. This includes affordable childcare and more family housing options.

      Regardless of partisanship, the mayor and city councillors need to step outside of city hall. Building a family-friendly Vancouver can’t be achieved unless we step outside of council chambers.

      It is in the neighbourhoods where we will find the families and seniors who rely most on the decisions we make for Vancouver.

      Melissa De Genova is an incumbent NPA City Councillor and former Park Board Commissioner who is running for re-election to Vancouver City Council. She is committed to building a family friendly Vancouver for her daughter and future generations.