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EDITORIAL – Public inquiries at council meetings are good entertainment

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

IF YOUR SCHEDULE doesn’t allow you the time to take in Music in the Park or other local entertainment, the Public Inquiries section of City council meetings is a good alternative.

At each Tuesday council meeting, citizens are allowed to stand up and ask questions, which are supposed to be about “the business of the meeting,” though they often have nothing to do with it.

Nevertheless, the questions and comments are frequently thoughtful and informative. Things like housing, drug addictions, wildfires and the Trans Mountain pipeline come up. At one memorable meeting, a resident berated council for talking in camera about a proposal for a farmers’ market in the Heritage House parking lot — the project was a news flash for everyone but council.

At another, a young indigenous man talked at length about rights and title and consultation.

Topics don’t always have anything to do with the jurisdiction of City council and certainly not about the business of the meeting, and sometimes Mayor Ken Christian lets his impatience show. On at least two recent occasions he’s demanded that people vacate the podium. He doesn’t always answer their questions, either.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what those questions are. A couple of weeks ago a gentleman went on for several minutes touching on a variety of things before it became clear he wanted to talk about the anti-idling bylaw.

When the mayor said that was a topic the previous week and no longer eligible for discussion, the resident wanted to keep talking, so Christian asked him to leave, twice.

Most exchanges are more pleasant than that one but the exceptions illustrate an important thing about local democracy — it’s a wonderful thing when somebody can feel free to talk directly to the people they elect, in the middle of their meeting.

Sometimes the privilege is abused, but the leeway given to those who do abuse the opportunity simply confirms what a great place this is.

And, as I said at the start, it can be darned entertaining.

Mel Rothenburger publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca forum and can be contacted at mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

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About Mel Rothenburger (6022 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on EDITORIAL – Public inquiries at council meetings are good entertainment

  1. tony brumell // July 10, 2018 at 4:28 PM // Reply

    This is more than a privilage.I believe that any citizen of Kamloops should be able to ask any reasonable question as long as proper respect is shown.Sometimes this is not the case as council is sometimes obtuse and unresponsive.
    The idea of asking questions of council encourages non political folk to become involved.If “as has been the case for some time now.”His Worship says “You are out of order. This question is not on an agenda topic” people will usually go away thinking that talking to council is impossible and politicians don’t want to be bothered with “other ” maters. I does seem that a few have abused the privilage recently but the Mayor usually is able to handle it.But he can be arbitrary too.
    It is important that council be accesable to all and the few that cause some disention are part of the price for open and accountable government.
    I know it can be frustration at times but I believe it is important and valuable for the city.

    • Mel Rothenburger // July 10, 2018 at 7:11 PM // Reply

      I agree that limiting questions to “the business of the meeting” is too restrictive but I guess it serves to prevent Public Inquiries from becoming a free for all. Asking questions at council meetings is a privilege in the sense that there is no legislation requiring City council to include a public inquiries section on its agenda.

  2. Abuse of a privilege may lead to removal of that privilege.

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