By Bill Cleverley, Victoria Times Colonist, March 8, 2012
Victoria should consider establishing an ombudsman’s office – or at the very least an ombudsman committee – to deal with citizen issues, says Coun. Ben Isitt.
“I think what I would favour now, on a trial basis for the remainder of 2012, [is] we try to formalize council’s complaint resolution role by forming some kind of an ombuds committee,” Isitt said.
He suggested the committee – a committee of the whole or an open committee of council – could meet on a monthly basis to talk about the nature of complaints received, how they are being dealt with and whether certain issues are taking up a disproportionate amount of time.
“Then, maybe we could be making recommendations to the city manager and to council for changes in policy that could maybe curb the complaints and improve response time and save a lot of staff and council resources by just tweaking how we do business.”
Isitt said he realizes that a councillor is a type of de facto ombudsman, but added that the flood of issues councillors are expected to deal with can be overwhelming.
The complaints run the gamut, from concerns over stormwater quality to developmental concerns to burned-out street lights.
“We’re swamped with these types of complaints,” Isitt said.
He said within two weeks of being elected to council in November, he was averaging about 40 complaints a day. Now, that number has ballooned to 60.
“If you factor in CRD as well, it’s probably closer to 80 or even 100 issues [at a time] on our desks,” he said.
Councillors are already designated as council liaisons to certain neighbourhoods, which Isitt said is a good start.
“But if I’m the liaison for Hillside-Quadra and there’s a light bulb out on Quadra Street, something doesn’t feel right about me as a councillor contacting our head of public works to fix a light bulb,” Isitt said.
He said it’s likely inevitable that people are going to have complaints about city functions, but added that those complaints could be managed better.
Isitt, who suggested the ombudsman while campaigning last November, said it is not uncommon for business people, trades people and residents to run into difficulties negotiating city hall departments such as building inspection or business licensing.
“When a small player – gets feeling like they are almost being treated like a criminal for trying to go through the procedures that exist – that’s what motivated the proposal,” Isitt said.