The City of New Westminster has issued a call for volunteers to apply for civic advisory committees for 2014. If you are interested in getting an in-depth look at some of the issues our city is dealing with, I strongly recommend putting in your application to join a City committee.
For a long time, I had no idea what these advisory committees were about, what they would ask of me, or whether I was the type of person that should apply. While some information is provided on the City’s website, I didn’t feel like I had a good picture of what I would be applying for. But this time last year, I put in my application anyhow.
Each committee has a specific focus, outlined in its terms of reference. Some are more narrowly defined than others. For example, the Childcare Grant Committee reviews grant applications and provides recommendations to Council regarding who should receive what funds. The Community and Social Issues Committee, on the other hand, has a broad mandate and considers a wide variety of topics, including homelessness, social inclusion, mental health, family-friendly communities and overall community health.
For the past year I have served on the Community and Social Issues Committee, and I have already put in my application to continue next year. I found the committee meetings very interesting. City staff often present reports in progress to gather feedback. Sometimes this leads to a recommendation to council and sometimes we are more of a sounding board to gather input before finalizing documents. Guest speakers come to share their insight into social issues affecting our community as well. In the last year, the CSI committee didn’t offer very many recommendations to council, but I’m told other committees like ACTIBIPED (Advisory Committee for Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians) apparently do. Each committee is chaired by a councillor and includes staff advisors, and their interests and leadership style influence how each committee is run.
Before applying to my first committee I was nervous about the time commitment and unsure what I was really signing up for. I would still say I’m a committee newbie – we met less than once a month (time off over summer), so we had only a few meetings over the year – but I can say that the time commitment was very manageable, and the work was enjoyable. I missed only one meeting, which happened to be held only days after my third child was born! My enjoyment of the meetings grew as I got a better sense of what the committee was about, and I’m very excited by the topics to be discussed in the coming year (the City is working on a family-friendly housing policy, which the CSI committee will help advise & review, and mental health issues are also on the agenda for January). Re-appointment to committees isn’t guaranteed, but I hope I’ll get picked for the team again in 2014!
The term length of each committee differs, with some serving one year, others longer. The committees that are currently accepting applications are listed on the City’s website. While some committees include spots reserved for applicants with subject matter expertise or who belong to specific groups (teens, seniors, business owners, artists), many positions are open to all community members.