Mayor Eisenberger's proposed Citizens' Forum is expected to be similar to the 2010 Citizens' Forum established to find a solution to area rating.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 02, 2015
Mayor Fred Eisenberger ran his recent election campaign on a promise to hold a citizens' forum that will review the studies, reports and other information on Hamilton's rapid transit plans and make a recommendation to Council. A citizens' forum is an independent group of residents selected randomly from across the city to consider all of the evidence objectively and, together, come up with a recommendation that reflects the best interest of the city as a whole.
Council still needs to approve Mayor Eisenberger's proposal and it is not yet clear exactly what the citizens' forum would look like, but it is likely to be similar in concept to the first Citizens' Forum that Council established, back in early 2010, to review the city's area rating system and recommend [PDF] a fair, politically palatable solution.
Eisenberger had proposed that Citizens' Forum as an inclusive way to move the City past a highly divisive issue. Council ended up adopting many of the measures from the Forum recommendations, though it decided to defer a decision on area rating for transit. (Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla has announced that he plans to bring a motion to Council to look at ending area rating for transit.)
The February 2010 Terms of Reference [PDF] for that Citizens' Forum are worth reviewing before Council considers Eisenberger's proposal to do the same thing with rapid transit.
The purpose of the Citizens' Forum was to "hear from the Citizens of Hamilton" and "make an informed consensus recommendation to Council on the options associated with" area rating.
The process was based on the following core principles:
Transparency - both politicians and the public have access to the same information and communications are proactive, fulsome and timely. In addition, the Forum selection process must be open and transparent to build trust in its outcome.
Inclusiveness - The panel must reflect the city's geographic and demographic diversity, and the information must reflect the diversity of perspectives.
Accountability - Participants are asked to set aside their personal preferences to help develop a recommendation that serves the best interests of the city as a whole.
Resources - The participants are given the resources they need to be successful.
The Citizens' Forum had the following governance structure:
Independent Steering Committee - appointed by the agency selected to run the Forum (Carrington Consulting) to oversee the proces and choose the Citizens Forum members. The Steering Committee includes members of the community (business, social, environment), the City Manager's office, one or more civic engagement experts, the project director and the research director.
Project Management Team - appointed by the agency to implement the process in detail. The Project Management Team includes the project director, research director, lead facilitator, logistics support and website/communications liaison.
Citizens' Forum - this is the actual group that reviews the information and makes a recommendation. 2000 names are selected randomly (from city tax rolls and so on) and sent a short questionnaire. Of the responses received (the city expected to get back around 200), the Steering Committee selected 20 participants - one from each ward, plus five backup participants - to reflect the city's geographic and demographic diversity.
Mayor Eisenberger personally supports the city's LRT plan, approved unanimously by Council in February 2013, but argues that the City needs to "hit the reset button" with the public and the Province after years of mixed messaging and confusion.
He is betting his personal LRT support on the belief that a representative group of reasonable people selected from across the city will conclude that LRT is the city's best option.
Council is badly split on LRT despite voting unanimously to support the City's Rapid Ready LRT plan just two years ago. Nothing has changed in the city's case for LRT, and last summer the Ontario Liberal Party won a majority government on a budget that allocates $15 billion for rapid transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, including rapid transit in Hamilton.
Last week, Eisenberger came out of a meeting with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne saying she had "unequivocally" confirmed that the Province will pay 100 percent of the capital costs for LRT in Hamilton. However, Premier Wynne stopped short of saying "LRT" in her subsequent press conference, saying, "There has been a back-and-forth in Hamilton about what that rapid transit will be."
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