Initial impressions of comments presented in Draft ISSUES PAPER:

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City staff need rural education, Jellett says

City consultations show employees don't understand non-urban Ottawa

Carly Weeks
The Ottawa Citizen

Monday, August 15, 2005

City staff need to better understand the rural parts of the city before they'll be able to serve them well, Councillor Rob Jellett said last week.

"The thing that really stood out loud and clear is we need an education system for staff."

                                                                                                                  - Councillor Rob Jellett


Mr. Jellett, chairman of the city's agriculture and rural affairs committee, said anecdotal evidence that came out of extensive consultations with rural residents over the past few months emphasizes the need for improved rural-urban relations.

He pointed to the story of a Sarsfield woman who said she called the city for assistance, only to be told they couldn't help her because she didn't live in Ottawa.

"The thing that really stood out loud and clear is we need an education system for staff," Mr. Jellett said yesterday.

Mr. Jellett's comment came after the release of a rural "issues paper" that was developed from the consultations. The paper identified issues that should be addressed at a "rural summit" to be held over two days this fall, pinpointing five major areas for discussion: access, communication and consultation; governance; service issues; policy issues; and agriculture.

The paper will form the basis for the agenda of the two-day rural summit this fall, which many rural residents, councillors and city staff hope will ease some of the tension between the city's urban and rural parts.

"I'm hoping, and I'm really maybe hoping too much perhaps, for the rural summit to be able to address those issues," Councillor Eli El-Chantiry said yesterday. "I still think there's room for us to work together and build the whole city as a whole."

The city is spending $150,000 on the two-day conference, during which city councillors, rural residents and representatives from the provincial and federal governments will discuss ways to address various issues raised by rural residents. No date has yet been chosen for the summit.

Mr. Jellett said the consultation sessions were invaluable because they allowed rural residents to openly express what they believe needs to be fixed at city hall.

Many of the 300 rural residents who participated in the consultation process said it was frustrating to have to come all the way to City Hall if they need to deal with an issue.

Residents also highlighted the fact that many urban city staff don't understand agriculture issues, and that it can be difficult to get through to the city's call centre.

Rural residents flagged the need to discuss the fact there isn't enough rural representation on city council and that councillors and staff have a poor relationship with people living in rural areas.

A majority of the consultation discussions centred on the fact there has been a serious lack of service in rural areas since amalgamation, according to some residents. The need for improved road maintenance, more funding for upgrades of subdivision roads and the need to upgrade community facilities are some of the major areas addressed by rural residents.

Some people living in the rural areas also want the city to recognize that some ideas that work in parts of the city aren't applicable to rural areas, such as expanding urban transit into rural areas or implementing restrictive bylaws.

Even if it can't solve every problem, the decision to hold the rural summit shows the city is willing to listen to rural residents, said Janne Campbell, president of the Rural Council of Ottawa-Carleton. While residents are encouraged by what they're seeing, they'll remain guarded until they see the results of the summit, she said.

"It's hard because there is a whole lot of skepticism out here," she said last week. "They (rural residents) just sort of feel that they're not cared about."

 The Ottawa Citizen 2005