An Innisfil Special Event – A Meeting of Minds

With most Council members in attendance, a public meeting brought volunteers, organizers and business sponsors of special events face to face with town officials who are revising the process of approvals for public events in the community.  It was prompted by the release of a 50 page draft Special Events Policy and Planning Guide that reflected a bureaucrat’s / legislator’s bias to be general and all encompassing. It clashed with an organizer’s expectation to be clear, concise and specific. The gathering was an essential meeting of the minds that clarified realities from both perspectives. 

The policy guide – as drafted – exhaustively discussed all of the existing regulatory requirements to ensure public safety (food and beverage, fire, traffic, equipment etc.) at events on public property. It referenced the multiple sources of those existing regulations – municipal, county and provincial. The staff patiently explained their interest in managing the associated risks and their intention to provide a single point of service to help residents navigate approval of a proposed public event. The message was that discretionary rules can be a benefit, not a hindrance. Staff also provided some clarification about events on private property and specific exemptions.

The draft policy is going back for a certain amount of revision. Staff noted some good suggestions as well as objections. Event organizers’ disagreed with some policies:

  • A long application time, up to 120 days
  • A penalty fee for applications less than 90 days before an event
  • Safety certification requirement for use of a barbecue
  • Hiring of certified first aid personnel
  • A potentially large damage deposit requirement

As the discussion ranged over various examples of events – existing and proposed – staff sensed a perception that residents had ‘trust issues’, that is, they were reluctant to consult with the Town because of a fear that it could lead to a cascade of enforcement actions. The Town representatives discussed ways in which early discussion with the Town could be beneficial instead. They also made reference to a new grant program, approved by Council “in principle” which would be available, once implemented, to potentially help fund some community events.

I’ve been reading a brilliant book* lately that examines how systems (environmental, economic, social) recover from shocks and disruptions. This passage stood out in one section that discusses fragility in organizations:

“Fragilities can be rooted in … the brittleness of a system that is unable to cooperate when it counts. In an organization or a community, fragility can arise from a lack of trust among community members or employees, from a deep resistance to change…”

The public meeting got misconceptions and misinformation out of the way. It clarified intentions and expectations on both sides and importantly dispelled the unhelpful image of a faceless bureaucracy. The real success of implementing a new Special Events Policy may be the development of a better culture of cooperation within the Town of Innisfil that brings together various constituencies and stakeholders more transparently and more often. We’ll know the success of this Special Events initiative by:

  • how smoothly organizers can transition to the new process
  • how efficiently the new process functions, no matter how it is worded in legal terms
  • whether Innisfil continues to host as many, or more, community events
  • whether Innisfil attracts new or larger cultural and entertainment events

* Resilience, why things bounce back – Andrew Zolli, Ann Marie Healy, Free Press, 2012