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Council refuses consultant recommendations that limit public interaction

Prince Edward County councillors do not agree with proposed limits to public deputations and comments from the audience – echoing concerns of residents as the most passionate issue among revisions being made to council’s procedural bylaws.

These and other “hot button” revisions were discussed at a four-hour special committee of the whole meeting Wednesday night, along with the remainder of the draft document.

Mayor Steve Ferguson noted the chair of a meeting, or the mayor, are responsible for maintaining the time-limits of 10 minutes for each deputation and three minutes for each comment. Where there are many deputations requested, a special meeting can be called.

“The limitation of numbers of deputations and comments from the audience are of great concern to me. Whether for 10 minutes or for three, people are investing time and energy to talk about subjects they are passionate about. For many of these people, it takes considerable guts to stand at a microphone to present their concerns.

He also noted any limitation could create a problem putting the clerk and mayor into the position of deciding who can, and cannot, speak, “and I certainly won’t do that. The current bylaw has worked well, so I would like it to remain as is.” He noted further complication with the return to hybrid meetings where members of the public pre-register to comment online and others arrive at the meeting in person.

“The system we have works,” stated councillor Brad Nieman. “If we adhere to the rules (on time), we won’t have problems (with length of meetings).”

Councillor John Hirsch stated the consultant’s suggested revisions to public engagement raised the most amount of passionate public comment. He noted preference to hear opinions on issues in advance, whenever possible, to allow thoughtful consideration, not always possible with a last-minute comments.

“Deputations have changed my mind,” stated councillor Jamie Forrester. “Often it’s information we do not know,” he said, adding recent procedure during the pandemic has been frustrating with technical difficulties, but “that doesn’t mean the process doesn’t work well.”

Councillor Janice Maynard added that a strict focus on being efficient may bring poor results where a focus on “being effective may be messy with passion, but fosters best results.”

Councillor Mike Harper added that while the point of council meetings is to make decisions that ensure and respect feedback, data shows just two regular committee of the whole meetings and five regular council meetings were affected by the more than three deputations over the years 2020 and 2021.

Council also decided it doesn’t need a recommended ‘deputy mayor’ and should continue its current policy of ‘acting mayor’ duties based monthly that allow all councillors opportunity to lead meetings and fill in when needed on the mayor’s behalf.

Councillor Phil Prinzen added the mayor can call on any of the councillors at any time for assistance. Councillor Stuart Bailey also pointed out brand new councillors may not know each other well enough to choose a deputy when their term begins.

Councillor Janice Maynard noted there is no better way to learn procedure than through opportunities to chair a meeting, or act on behalf of the mayor during a month.

Councillors also discussed the rules of reconsideration of matters before council.

A motion to reconsider can be made by a member when they want council to revisit a decision. The purpose of reconsidering a vote is to permit correction of hasty, ill-advised, or mistaken action, or to consider added information or a changed situation that has developed since the taking of the vote.

In the current bylaw, there are separate rules if reconsideration is made at the same meeting, if made within four meetings and if made after four meetings. The proposal has been simplified, without the meeting restrictions, and provides that a matter may be reconsidered twice in a 12-month period by a simple majority. A motion to reconsider may only be moved by a member who voted on the prevailing side of the original motion.

Council requested better wording from staff on the “sparing” use of electronic devices during meetings – acceptable to verify information to further the business of council, for caregiver responsibilities and personal emergencies.

While most agreed use has been responsible, councillor Phil St.-Jean added particular concern that councillors should not be allowed to have sidebar conversations with members of the public during meetings who have “special access” knowing their cell phone numbers.

“It’s contrary to transparency,” he said. “The public should hear us speaking, not in private conversations. It’s inappropriate and should all be in public.”

St.-Jean also asked staff to investigate providing recorded or live-streaming for committee meetings and the police services board.

Clerk Catalina Blumenberg noted the municipality currently does not have the capacity or infrastructure but can explore what technology (cloud storage, equipment) and staff time would be required to make it happen.

Procedural bylaws govern the way council, board and committee meetings are held, including rules for how they are called, who is involved, where they happen and how they proceed. They affect how residents can interact with council and committees and guide the way staff communicate information about meetings to the public.

They must be updated regularly under the Municipal Act and were reviewed with consultants Amberley Gavel, who stated they applied focus to making decisions that improve transparency, align with legislation and are efficient and effective.

Staff will be revising recommendations in the draft as directed by council, along with other several other amendments, for finalization of the new bylaw at council’s Feb. 8 meeting and to be enacted at the Feb. 22 meeting.


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  1. Susan says:

    I hope no Council decisions are based upon a minority vocal group on ” have your say “.

  2. Dennis Fox says:

    Andy – I agree with you 100%. I would recommend to everyone to read the Gazette’s editorial for this week – it points out the true problem on Council, that this latest decision really doesn’t change.

  3. Andy Bowers says:

    Council acted – with a giant prompt on ‘Have Your Say’ where the revised by-law was thoroughly panned, and a giant thank you to the four deponents whose cogent and constructive critical depositions must have made everything crystal clear to Council … reducing public input is a non-starter.

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