Advisory Committees Work in Lake Country
Many municipal councils recognize the importance and value of using independent committees to study issues with which they are dealing. Advisory committees are comprised of individuals from the public and/or private sectors, and are charged with the responsibility to closely examine issues given to them by the local governments. After careful deliberation, the committees present recommendations to the councils that can then be used to make decisions concerning the matter. This additional input can help councils be better informed about the different aspects of an issue.
The B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and the BCWWA’s Water Sustainability Committee, recently conducted a survey involving B.C. communities and many aspects of water-use efficiency. The results showed that despite their value, only 26 percent of respondent communities used advisory committees to help with decisions concerning water issues. The District of Lake Country (DLC), which is located on Kelowna’s northern boundary, is one of the communities that utilize an advisory committee.
DLC’s nine-member Water Services Advisory Commission consists of two municipal councillors, four members from the area’s previously existing irrigation districts, one member from the agricultural community, and two representatives of residential water-users. The Commission’s mandate is to provide input and recommendations concerning issues presented to it by DLC’s council. Some of the issues the Commission is asked to deal with are: budget items concerning community growth, infrastructure maintenance, and water projects (e.g. new housing developments), and water quality issues. DLC’s council is free to accept or reject the Commission’s recommendations, however few have been rejected.
The participation of an effective group of individuals representing different sectors of the community can be of great value to municipal decision-makers. The key word there is effective. A well-functioning group can help to lessen a council’s workload, however if the group is in any way dysfunctional, the result can be more a hindrance than a help.
The DLC council finds it can use its Commission as a sounding board to provide feedback and opinions on difficult issues. The inclusion of two councillors on the Commission increases the council’s comfort level with recommendations that are presented. Due to the wealth of experience present in the Commission, DLC’s council has confidence that solid recommendations will arise.
The size and structure of an advisory committee can be an important factor in its effectiveness. Michael Mercer, DLC’s Director of Engineering, believes that if a group is too big it can become fractured, while a small group size may not possess the necessary sum of experience. He stated that the size of DLC’s group seems to work well. The important thing, he maintains, is that the right people are present in the group. In the case of DLC’s Commission, each person respects the other members. That is of prime importance if they are to work effectively together.
Michael Mercer offers some recommendations to other communities considering using advisory committees, “Know the individuals you are putting on the committee, and make sure they know how local governments work.” Having a good working team comprised of individuals who respect each other’s inputs is crucial to their effectiveness. He believes in the importance of community-based thinking, and committee members should consider the good of the community when they are making recommendations. Individuals who can put aside personal agendas, respect the opinions of their colleagues, and consider the entire community, will be of great benefit to those who must make important and often difficult decisions.