In an effort to open dialogue with residents, town councillors are looking at changing how their regular meetings are held.
A proposed bylaw will allow residents the opportunity to speak to council during their meetings. This will replace the current procedures bylaw, which does not provide residents an opportunity to speak.
“The interest was to practice some sort of political correctness,” explained CAO Brad Watson, during a regular meeting Jan. 14.
Besides some other minor changes, this proposed change allows that “Members of the public, who constitute the audience, may be provided an opportunity as part of the meeting to address council on any topic relevant to municipal government for a period of time not to exceed two minutes per person.”
Council will hear from no more than three people and may or may not take action of the discussion. This is a less formal approach than the current method where residents inform the CAO of their desire to meet council as a delegation, which then is added to the agenda.
One more change to the bylaw gives the mayor a chance to allow another councillor to run a regular council meeting, should it be requested. Mayor Rick Bonnett feels this will benefit councillors and the town in the future. “So you guys (councillors) will learn of session planning.”
He suggested that becoming mayor will be an easier transition if councillors already have some experience running meetings.
Coun. Loanna Gulka had some concerns over the wording of the new provision, which states: “The intent of which is to provide the person council audience…”
She asked that the wording be changed to make the statement clearer for those reading it.
Coun. Carla Prediger wanted to know what the process would look like when residents seek audience. “Who’s responsible to manage that?”
The chairperson of the meeting would be responsible in dealing with residents and ensuring they follow proper conduct in the meeting, replied Bonnett. He feels if there is a contentious issue, many people will have questions but the chairperson of the meeting should take control to ensure things do not get out of hand.
The intent is to give residents a chance to either bring something forward or ask for clarification on an item in a formal setting, he explained. Bonnett said Ponoka County has put this in practice for about three years.
Guidelines in the bylaw do not allow certain conduct such as using foul language or being disrespectful to councillors or individuals in the gallery; the person may be ordered to leave their seat by the chairperson in such cases.
“I haven’t seen it abused,” added Bonnett.
Council approved second reading of the bylaw. It is expected to pass at the next meeting once the wording has been changed.