PFR Strategies and Plans: Commentaries
( display item 5)
There were seven round tables in a huge, echo-y gym, with 8-9 chairs at each table. Some of the chairs were empty. On one side there were five smaller tables, each with one staff person looking ready to write.
Brenda Patterson (general manager) was there, and Janie Romoff (rec director) also Sue Bartleman (Scarborough recreation manager), Lucy Troisi (community engagement manager), Diane Stevenson (policy and strategic planning manager) and various others. For councillors, I saw Shelley Carroll and Michelle Berardinetti.
There was a total of 14 staff (there may have been a few more) at the round tables plus at least 12 more (senior staff, “subject matter experts,” and runners – see below). By 7.30 pm there were 42 people at the tables, so that means there were (at least) 26 staff and (at most) 28 non-staff at the meeting. There were only three Scarborough residents at our table (one of whom left after 45 minutes), two staff leaders, plus two other non-staff – a woman from the “Public Interest” organization and I. Apparently CUPE has hired the Public Interest group to go to these meetings.
Chris Brillinger, director of the Social Policy, Analysis and Research Section, i.e. not from PFR, led the meeting. Brenda Patterson spoke with the powerpoint that’s posted on the city website, from 7.10 to 7.30. Then the groups at the round tables were given five “questions to consider,” relating to “equity, quality, inclusion, community capacity building,” and “next steps.” Each question had to be addressed in 10 minutes, and during the consultation there were numerous reminders by the staff leader that we must be brief, we were running out of time.
One of the Scarborough residents had written “angry citizen” on her name tag, and she had the most questions and comments, but she often hurried along without waiting for much of an answer. Her first question was: If your presentation says that only 6 % of Toronto residents used registered Recreation program last year, how many was that? The group leader summoned a “subject matter expert” whose name tag I couldn’t make out, and he told her that citywide, 167,000 people registered for at least one program. “Angry citizen” said the general manager just told us that over 100,000 people have registered under the welcome policy, so does that mean that only 67,000 people paid? The subject matter expert said, no, the numbers are more complicated than that. However, I couldn’t follow his explanation. But “angry citizen” said it was okay, she got it.
Each time a point was made by a non-staff person at our table, the staff note-taker would write it down in large letters on various different-coloured papers and a hovering staff runner would take the papers quickly to one of the side tables, where a staff recorder would enter them into the record. Comments from the residents at our table: that more variety of programs was needed, more support for frail seniors who wanted to go swimming, that some rec centres are too crowded but that other courses are cancelled because of low enrolment, that not enough people know about rec programs or rec centres, that there is not enough parking, that some swimming pools are grimy, that the instructors are great but terrified they’ll lose their jobs, that their bosses don’t support them.
At 8.35, Chris Brillinger said the time was up, and a woman whose name I didn’t catch presented the main points that had been assembled by the runners and the recorders at the side tables. I don’t remember all the points (some of them were those above) but we were told they’ll be cleaned up and posted somewhere, to go into the official record. Then Chris went over the main idea again – that these bits were what was needed to make up the plan that goes to Council. He thanked everyone, and the meeting was over. The staff had gone to some trouble to emphasize that anyone who wanted to have a more detailed conversation could stay behind and talk one-to-one with the appropriate staff expert, but I didn’t have the impression that many people lingered.
It felt as though people’s words were data pellets, put on a conveyer belt by the staff pellet processors, to be centrally reprocessed and spit out as a plan.