Open Forum for public at Council meetings to continue
by Tiffany Wilson

July 13, 2016

Town Council

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Saugeen Shores Council approved a one-time grant in the amount of $4,785.48 to the Marine Heritage Society (MHS) at Monday evenings committee-of-the-whole meeting held in the Municipal Chambers located at The Plex in Port Elgin. 

 Town Treasurer Sue Dent said, earlier this spring, members of the MHS Executive met with staff and the Town’s insurers to review the various policies currently in place.

She explained that the routine audit identified a few overlaps and gaps that required addressing and as a result, the organization was faced with an unanticipated mid-year cost of almost $5,000 in order to implement the recommendations by the insurer.

“We discovered that the MHS is not covered by the Town’s insurer, as was previously understood, so they have had to acquire liability insurance and directors and officers insurance in order to ensure they are covered for running the tourists to the island,” Dent added. 

Vice-Deputy Mayor Diane Huber said she has “great respect for what goes on at Chantry Island and the many many people over the years,” but respectfully requested that the decision be deferred due to the lack of information provided by staff to Council.  

 “We receive requests from a number of groups in the community as part of our budget process and normally those requests come with budgeted information…and telling us what they will be spending the money on,” Huber continued, adding, “this request is to void out any additional information that gives us a sense of how this fits into the bigger picture.”

Huber also said she had found out that the insurance for this year had already been paid.   

“It just seems to me, that we are being asked to fund something when we have absolutely no additional financial information to set it in it’s proper place. We certainly expect that from the other groups that we provide assistance to,” she said, adding that this kind of request is not normally the way Council would be asked to give money. 

Councillor Mike Myatt, however, was in support of the
 grant, reminding those in attendance that 180 tours to Chantry Island, that is owned by the Town of Saugeen Shores, requires “tour guides, tour captains, a tour crew…that is 540 positions in total.”   

“[The MHS] provide an amazing service and I’m not sure we should be quivering about that amount of dollars,” he continued. 

 Myatt added, that over the last 15 years, the MHS, a not-for-profit organization, has volunteered 45,000 hours and an additional 22,000 hours and 250 volunteers that helped restore Chantry Island.

“So that’s 67,000 hours that have been contributed by this organization, working on behalf of the Town, for the betterment of our community… if we provided the service that [MHS] provide, tours to Chantry Island, repairing docks, painting the Pearless etc. etc. etc, it wouldn’t be $5,000, it would be in the tens of thousands,” he concluded. 

As stated in the staff report, the grant will be funded from the municipal insurance reserve account that has a current balance of $141,193.45.

“The funds have been there for a very long time and we have yet to touch them,” Dent said. “We have not touched that fund for probably 10 to 15 years. I did go back and look originally where it came from, but I didn’t get that far.”

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Council voted all-in-favour for amending the Procedural By-law to include the Open Forum and its rules during Monday evening’s committee-of-the-whole meeting. 

The staff report read that Council implemented, on August 24, 2015, a one-year trial period to provide the public with an Open Forum prior to the committee-of-the-whole meetings that are held every second and fourth Monday of the month. The first Open Forum session was held on September 14, 2015 and since then, 18 meetings have been held and a total of 19 people have spoken during eight different forums.

Town Clerk Linda White read out the Open Form rules, which are as follows:

The forums are held for 15 minutes starting at 7:10 p.m. in the chambers. Any person may sign the register and request to speak to a matter on the agenda for a maximum of three minutes. No formal record is taken of the comments made during the Open Forum; however, Committee can consider the comments made during the Open Forum when deliberating on the issue spoken to on the agenda. No candidate in any election shall be permitted to address Council as part of the Open Forum.

Councillor Dave Myette said he thought the one-year trial was successful, picking Monday evening’s form as a good example.  

“We had a number of speakers and it gives people the opportunity to directly address us and give us certainly good food for thought when we make our decisions on our items [on the agenda,]” he continued.  

However, Myette suggested that the public should be able to speak on items not only on the committee-of -the -whole meetings agenda, but also council meeting agendas.

Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau echoed Myette adding that he thought there was some concern initially that the forms would be difficult to control, but “I think we have seen that members of the public when presenting during the Open Form, have been respectful of the time limit, very respectful of Council and very respectful of each other….it has demonstrated how these things can work and work well and how we can have these dialogues respectfully with one another in this chamber and in this community.” 

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016