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Ritchot launches digital platform to engage residents

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 08/19/2018 4:00 PM

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RM of Ritchot mayor Chris Ewen displays an iPad for Connect registrations available during business hours at the municipal office in St Adolphe. The new communication platform launched earlier this summer, and augments the RM’s website and smartphone application.

JORDAN ROSS | THE CARILLON Enlarge Image

RM of Ritchot mayor Chris Ewen displays an iPad for Connect registrations available during business hours at the municipal office in St Adolphe. The new communication platform launched earlier this summer, and augments the RM’s website and smartphone application.

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The RM of Ritchot is rolling out a new digital communication platform its mayor hopes will give residents yet another way to learn of the public hearings that matter to them before, not after, the input window closes.

The new service, dubbed Ritchot Connect, went live six weeks ago, and will be formally launched in September, assistant chief administrative officer Dominique Lemoine said.

As of Tuesday, about 280 people had registered, but Mayor Chris Ewen said he wants to see that number surpass 1,000 in the months ahead.

Residents can sign up using an iPad at the municipal office in St Adolphe, or register online.

While Ritchot already publishes a newsletter and maintains a website and smartphone application that were revamped earlier this year, Lemoine said Connect is more customizable, offering users choices about what to be informed about, and how to receive an alert.

"You get to choose the information you want to hear about," Ewen said.

According to Lemoine, Connect will cost the municipality $4,000 annually.

It arrives as Ritchot council deals with fallout from a July decision to approve a 15-dog breeding operation on a 3.5-acre lot at the corner of Tencha Road and Highway 75, near Kackenhoff Nurseries.

Property owner Svetlana Shakhov, who filed the conditional use application and fielded questions from council at the public hearing, said the fenced property, zoned agricultural restricted, was purchased with the Japanese Shiba Inu breed in mind.

While no residents turned up to voice objections, opposition quickly snowballed on social media and piled up in Ewen’s inbox after the application was approved. The mayor estimated he’s received 60 emails about the decision.

"It’s 90 percent negative," he said. "I think it took all of us by surprise."

The deluge left him reflecting on an issue he’s frequently raised since assuming office last July: the need to find innovate ways to push notices to residents, in order to spur more turnout at public hearings and council meetings.

Ratepayers of today turn to social media for local information, not municipal websites and posted notices, Ewen said, meaning the onus is on municipalities to adapt to residents, not the other way around.

"We live in a millennial social media age," said the 30-year-old mayor.

Rachelle Levesque, former vice-chair of Manitoba non-profit Strays That Can’t Pay, said she welcomes more digital means for residents to learn about public hearings like Shakhov’s.

"If there was more notification that was given to the public about this operation, there definitely would have been representation from animal rescues from across Manitoba," she said.

But Levesque, who started an online petition calling on Ritchot to reverse its decision, said education about dog breed traits and federal and provincial animal welfare legislation are also needed before councillors can make an informed decision.

While Ritchot council imposed numerous conditions and reserved the right to review Shakhov’s breeding operation in five years, Ewen said bylaw enforcement is another piece of the puzzle, one he’d like the province to support more when municipal resources are stretched thin.

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