Set in the middle of Breezy Corners on Macdonnell were four tables arranged together for a unique new civic engagement event. Ward 2 Councillor James Gordon and Ward 3 Councillor Phil Allt had put out an open invitation to the Guelph community: Thursdays at 8 am, come to Breezy Corners, have some breakfast, and talk about whatever you want to talk about politically. For this inaugural townhall, the councillors got around 20 people first thing in the morning for some frank political talk "over-easy."
According to Allt, a free-form, sit-down weekly townhall over breakfast was Gordon's idea. There was no agenda, people were free to talk about what they wanted to, whether it was getting feedback from the councillors on an idea, or asking them the status of various issues before the horseshoe.
The morning began with the announcement that Transition Guelph was going to be opening a tool library. The problem? Some of those tools will be gas-powered, thus demanding a unique storage issue. Gordon remarked that the currently empty community centre on Delhi St. might make a good option, and added that the city should be looking at ways on how to maximize the space they have.
On transit, the issues ran the gambit. There was concern that the buses going down to a 30-minute schedule in the summer was going to mean a lot of missed connections. There was some pondering among the crowd as to why the City doesn't negotiate bulk pricing on transit passes with big companies in the city, something akin to the student UPass at the University of Guelph. Pricing, smaller buses on less populace routes, and the fact that three K-W companies run private buses between Guelph and Kitchener for their employees also came up in conversation.
Allt ended up having to leave the meeting early for another meeting, his first as a council representative on the Guelph Hydro board. Many wanted to talk about power concerns, how the rates have tripled in the last 10 years, how they may go up more once privatization of Hydro One's been fully implemented, and how much of the hydro infrastructure is as old as a century. Allt suggested that the people consider what bill ultimately costs them more: their property taxes, or their electricity, and which one they have more say over.
Rob O'Flanagan of Guelph Today, who was also in attendance, became part of the conversation along with myself when the group started talking about the loss of the Guelph Mercury, and the paradigm shift in local media. Both O'Flanagan and I were in agreement that there's lots of opportunity for community input into what they want the media to provide input into, issues and questions that they want answered, or that they want to bring public pressure on. Gordon added that was one of the reasons he wanted to do these breakfast townhalls, to get that vital community feedback.
Budgets and staffing were also touched upon. Concerns over the lost $2.6 million at the recycling plant had one man point out that the missed profits from the Michigan deal "could have paid for a lot of transit."
Grocery stores were also discussed, as one person wondered if it might be prudent to bring another grocery store downtown considering all the people moving into condos in the neighbourhood. Part of that issue is parking, and Gordon admitted that the situation is tricky because the City needs to walk a fine line between providing people downtown the necessary parking, while encouraging people to walk and take transit to the core where possible. Another person suggested more enforcement was necessary, as he had witnessed several people enjoying free parking downtown for more than the allotted two hours.
Before the end of breakfast, discussion turned to the structure of City Hall. Some were concerned about councillors making decisions about multi-million dollar projects when the vote goes after midnight, others impressed upon Gordon the need to move to full-time councillors, which Gordon confessed he'd have to think about as it would mean giving up his day job as an "international rock star." Others said that Council missed an opportunity last fall to approve the budget for the Council Composition and Employment Status Review/Ward Boundary Review, and Gordon agreed saying that new ways need to found to get council to reflect Guelph's growing diversity.
The meeting ended with perhaps the most important question of the day: Why wasn't the City selling wood chips again this year?
If any of this sounds interesting, Allt and Gordon will be at Breezy Corners again next Thursday at 8 am.