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Residents concerned proposed changes to bylaw will ‘stifle public voices’

Ahead of review of procedural bylaws that includes encouraging more efficient council meetings, a handful of residents are expressing concern over time-limited sessions with a limit to three deputations and a limit of 30 minutes for comments from the audience.

“As there are many different types of debates that may take place, I do not believe there should be a limit on the amount if deputations,” wrote Steve Bell, of Wellington, on the comment section of the municipality’s Have Your Say page. “If there is a large number if deputations then a special meeting should be called to allow discussions. It is not really a democracy if limits are put on public input.”

Another comment from Rob Deutschmann states the changes benefit council, but not the public.

“This is clearly an attempt to reduce input from the public – requiring registration four days in advance and only allowing three deputations to speak for 10 minutes each, and then acting as if you are being open minded by allowing additional speakers for three minutes each but only for a total of 30 minutes. One has the impression that democracy and input from the public is an inconvenience.”

Alison K suggests that at the three hour mark, council should vote on whether to continue, end the meeting or continue another day.

She also questions how the municipality will decide on the three deputations.

“First-come, first-served? New voices? I fear this will stifle public voice on important issues.”

Two comments were also made regarding council transparency, suggesting all voting should be recorded.

County Clerk Catalina Blumenberg notes the council currently does not have the technology to permit all votes to be recorded in an efficient manner, but could explore the inclusion of recorded vote technology as part of the Shire Hall Council Chamber renovation. She also notes “the proposed option to permit them at all meetings allows a member to request it for more instances.”

Public consultation continues on the Have Your Say site ahead of a special committee of the whole meeting set for Wednesday, Jan. 26. County staff are to consider public feedback before finalizing a new procedural bylaw for council’s consideration in February 2022.

The bylaw governs 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.

It also affects how residents can interact with council and committees and guides the way staff communicate information about meetings to the public.

Proposed changes listed on the Have Your Say site are grouped into four themes, allowing comment until Jan. 14.

The themes include: encouraging more efficient meetings, improving transparency, aligning with legislation and advancing inclusion and accessibility.

 

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  1. Argyle says:

    Our new CAO arrived to great fanfare and with high praise from the mayor and council. Apparently she has many years experience working at Queens Park on planning and policy issues. It’s hard to imagine that she has not had input into recommending and implementing many operational changes at Shire Hall and how the “Corporation of PEC” functions internally. Rewriting the procedural bylaws with Input from consultants may be just one of them. She was hired for her experience in provincial and municipal policy matters.

  2. Mark says:

    I don’t know whe we need a consultant to prepare this bylaw. This comes on the heels of a consultant recommending selling off our historical and wanted Town Halls. We have a Council and staff that should be quite capable of bringing forward a more efficient process and respecting public input.

  3. Dan says:

    By adding “senior management” in the wording. Elected officials will no longer have authority over general staff. ​(ie recycling, landfill sites, waste water dpm).
    ​Giving senior management controlling position.

    This is not a review of procedural bylaws. This is dismantling current bylaws.

    ​Why is staff pursuing this now, with election looming ?
    Maybe because new council would never support this.

  4. Paula Peel says:

    I agree with you Dan that Council should not support this by-law when its presented to Council for approval on Feb 8’22.

    Here’s some other changes, in addition to those you mention:
    → limit of 3 deputations per meeting.

    → limit of 10 comments per meeting to a maximum of 30 minutes.

    → The current by-law says in the section on “Comments from the Audience” that: “any person may address members of Council on any matter that is listed on the agenda without the provision of notice”. Under the new by-law all those wanting to give a 3 minute comment on items on the agenda must register by noon of the day of the meeting. This new rule prohibits anyone in the audience who didn’t register from addressing comments being made by those who did.

    → Section 5.15(2) in the current by-law (the section on Deputations) has been dropped from the new by-law. This section said that: “where notice has been published under Section 5.14 any person present to address the matter shall be heard without providing prior written notice”. It seems that the people behind this by-law are pretty determined to control the conversation.

    → Section 5.15(7) in the current by-law has been dropped from the new bylaw. This section said that: Where a particular matter is expected to generate a large number of deputations (namely, ten (10) deputations or more), the Council or Committee of the Whole may pass a resolution to hold a special meeting in order to afford all deputations an opportunity to address the Council or Committee of the Whole or the Mayor may call a special meeting.

    → The proposed by-law has a new section that prohibits deputations to Council, local boards and committees on matters that Council has already decided within the previous twelve (12) months, unless Council has decided to reconsider the matter. So if you’ve got concerns or problems with something you’d better be good at holding them in, because you likely won’t be able to address Council (or any committee) about them until a year is up.

    → Under the new by-law, requests to be listed on an agenda as a deputation must be submitted five working days prior to a meeting, instead of four (in the current by-law). Furthermore, copies or summaries of comments must be submitted four working days prior to the Meeting by noon. The “4 working day” deadline is not easy to comply with when you’re only seeing agendas for the first time a few days before. You are definitely having to scramble to put things in writing in order to meet the deadline. But at least you’ve got a chance to make the deadline. If you don’t check the County’s website on a regular basis a week before every meeting to see what’s on the agenda, for example, and you are just hearing from a friend or on CountyLive that there’s an item on the agenda at the next meeting that you’re interested in, good chance you are out of luck with rules and requirements like these. The current by-law is more open-ended. It merely says that deputations shall be required to make a request to be listed on the agenda four days before the meeting and to submit a copy or summary of their comments to the Clerk prior to making a deputation.

    → The current by-law says the role of council is to ensure the accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the management of the municipality; The word “senior” has been added in the new by-law, i.e.”. . .including the activities of senior management of the municipality”. The addition of “senior” implies that council only needs to ensure the accountability and transparency of activities of senior management. Clearly council should be concerned with the activities of ALL management of the municipality from the bottom up. The reason for this change eludes me.
    . . .

    There’s lots of other changes – these are only a few of many. Both the current and draft by-law are on the Have Your Say website under the heading “Procedural By-law Review” (sidebar). The big problem is trying to identify everything that’s been changed. It’s next to impossible for members of the public to get a handle on all the changes.

    In the interest of fairness and transparency ALL changes to the procedural by-law should have been marked in red on the draft procedural by-law, including identifying all of the sections in the current by-law that are being eliminated, identifying wording changes, and identifying new additions.

    After all, this is a brand new by-law that’s replacing the current by-law, as opposed to merely proposing a few changes in the current by-law. It’s one thing to suggest a few amendments to a by-law. It’s another thing entirely to replace a by-law with a brand new by-law, and to make numerous and substantial changes in the process.

    Members of the public and council need, and deserve, to fully understand the changes. As such the preferable course of action is to send the draft back and have the appropriate staff identify all changes or alternatively send it back to the consultant, where this should have been done in the first place.

  5. Dennis Fox says:

    If our community has come to the point where our council no longer controls the agenda and is being forced to consider a recommendation from a consultant (as was suggested earlier) – then we are in serious trouble. If true then the taxpayers are paying for a system no longer needed – just let the consultants rule us!

    No, I don’t believe the above is true either – our council does have the choice to deal with it or not – they alone will be totally responsible for the outcome.

  6. Dan says:

    Great information Paula, thanks.
    Bylaw way it is written

    A new deputy mayor will be appointed who will preside over every meeting in which the mayor is absent. Both the mayor and his deputy will be vested with broad new powers to curtail deputations, questions or debate.

    Elected representatives will be permitted one question and one follow up.

    No questions will be permitted to staff during deputations. No member shall be permitted to speak until recognized by the presiding officer.
    The new provisions diminish and restrain debate and demand obedience

    I believe, executive staff were heavily involved in writing this proposal.

    Council needs to retain control of the municipality, and its policies. And NOT SUPPORT THIS BYLAW

  7. Paula Peel says:

    Just to clarify, this new procedural by-law is not coming from council. Council did not participate in any way in the writing of the new by-law. This by-law comes to us straight from the desk of a consultant, with or without the involvement of the County’s senior administrative staff (but in my opinion at least, probably with their involvement). So all the comments going after council on this issue are barking up the wrong tree.

    It’s our bureaucrats who for some reason decided the current procedural by-law needed a complete and total overhaul, and who for some reason decided to bring this ill-thought out by-law forward for approval at this time, in the middle of a pandemic when really, don’t we have plenty enough to worry about right now?

    The procedural by-law that is being proposed actually contains sections that undermine the authority of council in the same way it undermines participatory democracy, for example by limiting deputations to 3 per meeting.

    The proposed new by-law prescribes new rules of engagement that are not in the County’s best interest or in council’s best interest. And they are most definitely not in the public’s best interest.

  8. Dan says:

    I have little faith in a council that:
    – closed boat launch in Wellington offered no alternative.
    – amended bylaw so local residents can not have family weekend were tents and trailers were on private property.
    – claims to support affordable housing, but has done little.
    – added no parking signs at water access, Stinson Block, Hyucks Point, virtually unusable now, unless you parachute in.
    I could go on…

  9. Dan says:

    I believe there are a few good councilor’s, John Hirsch is one.
    But this council has been a train wreck since covid. They have imposed wide ranging new revisions, some with appalling consequences.
    I have previously mentioned, were done with no public consultation or representation. Fact is they are still doing it. This should concern every resident in PEC.
    Remember not to long ago, if you had an issue, calling your councilor at home. Now its a Shire hall email, lucky to hear back.

  10. Dennis Fox says:

    I too have heard positive things about Councillor Hirsch – let’s hope that he will raise concerns over this proposed by-law and will inform the public as to why council is even considering it. I look forward to seeing an amendment coming from Councillor Hirsch which will reverse the direction of this by-law proposal.

  11. Bruce Nicholson says:

    We,in South Marysburgh, are very fortunate to be represented by John Hirsch. John has been sending out daily COVID updates throughout this pandemic and also alerting his constituents to upcoming issues before council.

  12. Dennis Fox says:

    I thank those people who have brought this very important issue to the public’s attention.

    There is no justifiable reason for Council wanting to limit public participation – other than the fact that they have become self=serving. Since COVID started, our Council has had an easy time – no in person meetings, not much public input on anything really – and they want things to remain this way forever!

    While our staff has worked hard, Councillors have done very little. When was the last time you have heard from your ward councillor, or seen any effort from any of them to promote public participation in local government?

    Our community is being sold and developed and the public have had very little say ion what has been approved. I think this needs to change now!

  13. Fred says:

    Deciding 3 deputations will need some unbiased scrutiny. 3 for a proposal to speak and those against are muffled does not work. Biggest delay in Council is everyone repeating for or against the same issue.

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