An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
TRANSPARENCY IS ONE OF the most important responsibilities of local government. The public must not only be able to watch the public proceedings of its City councils; it must be able to easily review decisions after the fact.
Public hearings into development matters are especially important because they affect people where they live. Last week, a developer asked to modify a restrictive covenant on property on the Trans Canada Highway in Dallas.
The change was to allow a gas bar, car wash and drive-thru restaurant. By way of letters and petitions, nearby residents overwhelmingly opposed it.
The hearing itself has proven as contentious as the application. Coun. Denis Walsh, one of two councillors who voted against the proposal, has challenged a statement he says Coun. Dale Bass made during the hearing that she lives in the neighbourhood and was told the Dallas Community Association did not oppose it.
Walsh contends her comments amount to new information the council wasn’t aware of and was contrary to procedural rules.
Restrictions due to COVID-19 allow local governments to meet in person but don’t allow the public to attend. Instead, councils must provide an opportunity for the public to participate online.
If you search for a video record of the public hearing, you won’t find it. Those who didn’t sit in live have no way of knowing the details of who was for and against, whether Coun. Bass really did make a rookie mistake, whether the community association and not just its president was OK with the development and why the council decided to ignore the wishes of those most directly impacted.
This mess demonstrates a deficiency in the process that can’t be blamed on COVID-19. The council talks a good game on public engagement but in some respects does a pretty shabby job.
Public hearings need to be taped and made easily and immediately accessible, and minutes of those hearings published within 24 hours.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.