Applications from citizens to serve on city groups plunge by 35 per cent
Elected officials spent hours behind closed doors Monday, examining the resumes of 289 Calgarians who applied to fill vacancies on dozens of boards, commissions and committees — a 35 per cent drop in applications compared to last year.
At an annual organizational meeting of council, Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart suggested the “disappointing” decline in citizens wanting to give back to their community could be related to the recentdrama surrounding a volunteer group that reviewed council pay.
After a rough ride while presenting their findings to city council in late May, city hall’s five-person council compensation review committee publicly blasted how they were treated by elected officials and complained that city administration had a tight grip on their work.
“When you see how those people were treated when they came forward to council, which was totally unacceptable, that’s a fundamental problem,” Colley-Urquhart told reporters Monday.
But the new Ward 3 councillor, Jyoti Gondek, who has previously sat as a citizen member on the planning commission, believes the recent municipal election may be behind this year’s decline in applications.
“I think there were over 100 people that ran (for council), so perhaps some of these numbers are down because more people participated in democracy in a different way,” Gondek said in council chambers Monday.
Gondek enjoyed her experience on the planning commission and said more citizens need to know about the fulfilling opportunities on city committees.
“We need to get better at getting that word out to people and telling them what it’s all about and what it really means and the difference it can make,” she told reporters.
Another new councillor, Jeromy Farkas, believes the reason the city received 157 fewer applications this year, when compared to 2016, is two-fold.
“The first is that it was an election year,” said the winner in Ward 11, agreeing with Gondek that people hyper-engaged in civic politics were likely to run for council this year, rather than apply for a committee.
“The second piece is around something of a culture that we’ve seen from city council,” he said, referencing his experiences while presenting to city council as a citizen, and how the council pay group was treated.
No one from the City of Calgary was available Monday to provide context on how many applications were received before 2016, or provide insight on what’s behind this year’s drop in resumes.
Before council waded into the resumes behind closed doors, Colley-Urquhart also raised questions about gender parity on boards, commissions and committees, and blasted a lack of movement on the issue.
“It’s a bit of a hollow response ... It’s not getting us anywhere,” she said in council chambers after city administration said gender information for Calgarians applying for the volunteer positions isn’t collected. Instead, the city said a working group that’s “investigating ways in which we can advance gender and diversity on city’s boards” has recently formed.
Colley-Urquhart said the city has been talking about gender diversity for years, without much movement.
Councillors Jyoti Gondek and Jeromy Farkas. Gondek said more citizens need to know about civic opportunities.