BEPPLE – Limiting each speaker to five minutes serves everyone’s interests
MEETINGS ARE CORE to what a city council is about. Meetings are where information is presented, issues are debated, and decisions are made. The business of the City of Kamloops government is done in meetings.
Coun. Dale Bass has presented a notice of motion to limit the amount of time for public inquiries and public hearings to five minutes. Former mayors Ken Christian, and Peter Milobar, and other previous mayors limited speakers to five minutes.
Our current mayor does not.
Her motion will be debated at the Feb. 28 council meeting. In essence, Bass wants to make meetings go faster. Or, more specifically, not be a repeat of the Jan. 30 meeting, where person after person spoke during the public Inquiries section of the meeting for up to 30 minutes each.
Two hours into the meeting, the business section of the meeting had not yet started.
Kamloops This Week reported today (Feb. 15, 2023) that Hamer-Jackson “said he will not support Bass’ motion and asked how he could limit the public’s time speaking when he allowed ASK Wellness Society representatives 30 minutes at the microphone this past November.” (The first business meeting of council).
All I can say to that is that I certainly didn’t know everything there was to running a council meeting on the first meeting I attended. For Hamer-Jackson to decide that the length of every future delegation, public inquiry, or public hearing be decided based on what he did as chair of the very first business meeting of council seems to give very little latitude for improvement.
The Kamloops This Week article also states that Hamer-Jackson stated, “As mayor and chair of council meetings, he said he can cut speakers off when required.”
True enough. He has that latitude whether it is a member of council, the public or staff. But at least for the public, if for no one else, it would seem reasonable to have some fairness in the time available.
If one person has no time limits, that should mean everyone be availed the same opportunity. Cutting off some but not others seems arbitrary and less than equitable.
Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson has stated he won’t be supporting the motion and that he wants to give people the chance to speak as long as they want.
Which brings us back to Bass’ motion to limit the amount of time people have to make public inquiries or presentations at public hearings.
Five-minute time limits were the practice of Ken Christian, and Peter Milobar, and other former mayors. Setting limits ensures everyone who wants to speak has a chance.
There’s something to be said that everyone should be able to speak as long as they like. Until of course it impinges on the opportunity of others to do the same.
Limiting the amount of time speakers have is out of respect for everyone. Setting limits ensures everyone has an opportunity to speak, and there is sufficient time to complete the entire meeting’s agenda.
If Bass’ motion passes on Feb. 28, it simply directs staff to prepare a bylaw. The draft bylaw would then need to be presented to council to be voted on at a future meeting.
Until the time a new bylaw is passed, Hamer-Jackson can indeed let people speak as long as they like.
It will be interesting to see what Hamer-Jackson will choose to do for council’s first large public hearing scheduled for the evening of Feb. 28.
At that meeting, there will be public hearings for three properties. There has already been considerable interest from the public on the three properties, one in Valleyview, one in Sagebrush Neighborhood, and one in the Downtown.
To date, 30 pieces of correspondence have been received on the three sites. Based on my past experience, there could easily be 100 or more people in attendance at the public hearings. Many, if not the majority, will want to speak.
Public hearings run from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., unless extended by agreement of council members. Whoever wishes to speak is given the opportunity to speak.
Limiting public to five minutes each would allow about 48 people to speak on the three properties between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.. If the mayor does not impose limits, far fewer people could have the opportunity to speak. But legally, everyone who wishes can speak at a public hearing.
At 11 p.m, if there are still people who want to speak that haven’t been heard, the hearing would need to be extended to a new date. All those people who took the time to show up would be forced to come back another day.
I’ve been to long public hearings, where scores of people presented. I’ve been to public hearings that went on to 11 p.m. and beyond. And that was with a five-minute speaker’s limit. I personally do not want to make the public who has taken the time to come to a public hearing have to come back for a second day in order to have a chance to speak before council.
It is all well and good to let everyone speak as long as they want, except there are many others who have equal rights to speak. Limiting each speaker to five minutes serves everyone.
Whether or not Bass’ bylaw passes some time in the future, at the Feb. 28 public hearing the mayor is free to do what he wants to do. He will have to decide if he will stick to his practise of letting speakers take as much time as they like. He will have to decide if the public has to face an extremely long public hearing, and possibly a second day.
Or whether, instead, he gives everyone a fair and equal five-minute time and allows the public hearing to be completed in a timely manner.
It will be interesting to see if Hamer-Jackson decides that the five-minute limit suggested in Bass’ proposed bylaw is the best use of everyone’s time. And the most respectful of everyone’s time as well.
Nancy Bepple is a Kamloops City councillor with a strong interest in community building projects.
What a lengthy blabber…