Special Meetings, Public Meetings and Communication

I was at the regular council meeting on Monday night as per usual and during the council meeting there was a public meeting which featured a short presentation on a study done about development charges. The presentation was a slide show about the study (done by a consulting company), that showed projections on things like: how fast our population was going to grow, what our needs as a municipality were going to be as we grew, how much money for those needs was going to come from development charges etc.

I tried to write down everything that I could, but there was too much information and I simply couldn’t keep up. After the presentation, those in attendance were asked if they had any questions. I didn’t know where to start and I couldn’t even begin to ask an intelligent question because I didn’t have enough time to process all of the information and didn’t have access to a copy of the study ahead of time. There were only five other people there and I don’t think anyone was there specifically for the public meeting. With no apparent questions or opposition to the study and its projections, the study was adopted into a bylaw. Soon after, a special council meeting was scheduled for immediately after the next committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday night (Aug 5), to vote on the new development charges bylaw. What was the rush to create a special council meeting to vote on it the next week at committee of the whole? Why couldn’t this at least wait until the next regular council meeting in two weeks?

As for the public meeting itself, I don’t think residents knew that the meeting was happening. I don’t think that residents were given enough time to be notified about it. I also don’t think the subject matter of the meeting was relayed in a way that residents could understand exactly what the meeting was about and the impact of how the information in that meeting would affect them. Granted, some people may not want to know or don’t care, but for those who do, I don’t think it was enough information or enough notice.

There was also a special committee of the whole meeting held at 4:30pm on Wednesday July 23rd at which the report about the East Quadrant Well was presented and a budget amendment for relocation of the irrigation line in the Ferguson Forest Centre was discussed. I was the only attendee from either the public or the press. If it were not for the fact that I just happened to be home, I wouldn’t have been able to attend either. Why was it held at this time? Why couldn’t it have been held during one of the regularly scheduled committee of the whole meetings? I’m not sure why it was set for that time, but I don’t think it was reasonable to hold a meeting at 4:30. Almost 2/3 of residents work outside the municipality and would not be able to make it home in time for a meeting at a time like that.

This brings me to some of the things I want to see happen about these meetings if I’m elected as a councilor this fall:

1) I’m not a fan of special meetings or their short notice. I think that by creating special meetings with short notice, it doesn’t give municipal residents and businesses time to find out that they’re happening and what they’re specifically about. I prefer to see council stick to conducting council and municipal business at regular council and committee of the whole meetings. If a special meeting is ABSOLUTELY necessary, then it should be clearly communicated why the meeting is happening, where it is happening, what the meeting is about and how the contents of that meeting could affect municipal residents and businesses. Special meetings that are scheduled at unreasonable times or on non-regular meeting days, make it appear to some as if something is being hidden from residents or that something is being rushed through without resident input. I don’t necessarily believe this to be true myself, but I could see how some people might think of it that way.

2) If public meetings are scheduled, then residents and businesses should be given more specific details about what the meeting is about. What I mean by that is, simply that it should be explained how the information contained in that meeting will affect everyone. A vague description of “development charges study” does not explain how that will impact residents and businesses. A few sentences or a short paragraph would help people understand the importance of the meeting.

3) In terms of giving notice of meetings, I feel that we need to do more to let people know the details. Not everyone religiously checks the municipal website. After talking to CAO Brian Carre, we discussed doing things like notifying both newspapers and StarFM through a press release when these meetings are happening, why they’re happening and some details of what they’re about. I also think that a special email list should be created for residents and businesses to be notified when these press releases come out. This way you’re notified by email, instead of you having to go hunting for information about something that you may not know even exists. Anyone could sign up for this list, if they want to know more about what’s happening in the municipality.

All of these things could be accomplished without any additional cost to the municipality and it would keep everyone well informed about what’s happening, when it’s happening and what it’s about.

Overall, I think municipal staff do a good job of communicating about these meetings. However, as I’ve outlined with some of the ideas above, I think we can do even better. One of the things I strongly believe in is more transparency and better communication when it comes to notifying residents and businesses about council and the business it is conducting. If elected, I promise residents that I will work hard with municipal staff and council to search for ways to do things better.

Sound good to you?

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