Open Forum concept not popular with some of Council

July 27, 2015

Town Council

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At the last Council meeting, held July 13th, Councilor Mike Myatt presented a motion on behalf of Councilor Cheryl Grace, who was absent, to implement an 'Open Forum' concept on a one-year trial basis.

Myatt said that Grace feels strongly about an Open Forum and had, in fact, campaigned on the idea during the election.  "I also heard that we need to engage the public more and that, perhaps, they could come in 15 minutes before Council and each would be given two or three minutes to speak on a topic of their choice."  He said that there would have to logistics or a framework so that the meetings would not be unwieldy.  "I am sure that staff could put together some logistics around the idea that could be brought to council for consideration."

Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber said at the outset that she would not support the idea, although she is in favour of encouraging public participation.  "I don['t think an open forum is a good way to do this.  It could create a very difficult situation and that someone would be better served by taking the time to send something in that is circulated to all of council rather than just having two minutes of our time."

Huber also feels that an open forum may set in motion a situation where there may be comments from the audience, such as 'let him talk, let him talk' resulting in it running for more than 15 minutes.

"Also, since it would potentially be on a first-come, first-serve basis," she added, "there may be the same people all the time.  I am much more supportive of the idea of having two special meetings a year that would set in motion a complete pre-budget Open Forum where people could have a little longer to speak and then followed up perhaps with an 'after-budget' meeting for a sort of catch-up.  It would mean we could hear from a lot more people and it would give us a chance to have people and us get introduced to the idea of having people speak.  I don't think it serves any purpose to put something out in two minutes."

Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau however, supports the concept.  "Right now, there is a hole in our process in terms of  the opportunities that people have to comment on things before Council.  The two-special meetings a year does give people the chance to talk but it does not solve the problem in our procedures where people cannot comment on items that appear at the Committee of the Whole (CoW) in real time.  So  an item placed on CoW agenda that comes out Thursday afternoon, is the same time that the submission for delegations ends.  Therefore, it isn't possible for the public to comment on items coming to CoW."

Charbonneau added that "... that's fine if Committee of the Whole approves an item and it then has two weeks to come back before council.  If however, Council defeats it, there is no opportunity for public input.  That's a problem and is a hole in our procedures where the public does not have fulsome opportunity to speak on issues that aren't supported by Committee of the Whole and an Open Forum gives that opportunity."

He said that through personal experience he had dealt with an open forum situation and people were made aware up front of what the requirements were as to time constraints and that they were respected.  "There is no reason to fear or be concerned about providing the public with an opportunity to freely address us (council) in a structured manner.  It would simply mean we hear their response before we deliberate a subject."

According to Charbonneau, it (open forum) is done at other councils and he supports the motion.





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Mayor Mike Smith said he is opposed to an Open Forum for a number of reasons. 

"Council is engaged with the community in a whole range of ways," he said. "and I think there are better ways of doing it than an open forum.  I have sat around this table for many years and it takes a very special person to get up in front of everyone and speak.  There is a vast majority that is very uncomfortable with that.  To my mind, it creates a very unfair playing field for those not comfortable with speaking in public."

He also pointed that items, such as budgets, are discussed way before approvals are made. "I agree that there are probably better ways of getting input on particular issues but I don't think an open forum is the way to do it.  I, too, have some experience with it and have seen communities where it is grossly misused, particularly during election years where there are personal attacks toward people sitting around this table that you can't reply to.  It sets up a forum that is totally unproductive."

Smith said he many times during the election about openness and transparence but the thinks it is a "two way street". 

"We have never denied anyone a delegation to speak to this Council.  All we ask for is an outline of what is going to be presented.  If you give someone an opportunity to simply get up there an ambush any particular one of us, is wrong.  I will not support it."

The motion read:  Staff bring logistical information back to Council for a 15 minutes open forum prior to each  meeting of the Committee of the Whole on a one-year trial basis.

In a tie vote, (Councilors John Rich & Don Matheson, Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber and Mayor Mike Smith opposed) the motion was defeated.

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Monday, July 27, 2015