For citizens interested in making a difference in their community or learning more about the inner workings of municipal government, the Town of Lake Cowichan has the perfect opportunity.
The Advisory Planning Commission is looking to fill two vacancies on its five-person volunteer committee and the spots are open to anyone, no matter their age or skill set, even to people who don’t live within town boundaries. The APC advises council on all matters related to land use, including community planning, bylaws and permits.
Ross Fitzgerald, APC chairman, said talk of bylaws and protocols might make the position sound dull but the role is actually much more involved and interesting than may first meet the eye.
“This really is a tremendous learning opportunity for people. If you really are interested in how towns and municipalities work, it’s a very comfortable way to come in,” he said. “When the opportunity came up three-and-a-half years ago, I saw it as an opportunity to get engaged and somewhat involved with the town to find out what’s going on and see if I can contribute in some meaningful way.”
Land use is a broad area of focus, which enables the committee’s work to cover a range of projects or initiatives. For example, the APC was responsible for developing the town’s wayfinding plan, which governs new signage around town, including the new welcome sign, and plans for a columbarium in the town as a cemetery alternative.
Fitzgerald said every year he’s been involved, the APC has worked to update or introduce at least one or two bylaws. And they have access to professional expertise if needed.
For people who are considering running for public office, a two-year term as a member of the APC is one way to get involved with local government and develop an understanding of its functions and complexity before taking the plunge and launching a campaign.
Originally the APC was open only to residents of Lake Cowichan, however, a 2011 bylaw was passed allowing at least two non-Lake Cowichan residents to sit on the commission.
Age also should not be a hindrance to prospective candidates, according to Fitzgerald.
“If there are some very young people in the community who are interested in politics and to become part of it, it’s an excellent opportunity for something like that. It’s also a great opportunity at the other end of your life, you’re retired and can come back and contribute your experience and expertise.”
For people who are interested, Fitzgerald said they should go on the town’s website and read the 2011 bylaw that established the current APC. He said they should also speak to town CAO Joseph Fernandez (who also sits as an ex-oficio member of the commission) to get more information about the role and to read past meeting minutes.
APC members have two-year terms and meet once a month. They also take a month off in the summer. Fitzgerald said outside those monthly two-hour meetings, there is not a lot of extra work. There is some reading of materials before each meeting to prepare, but nothing too onerous.