WALSH – Councillors put obstacles in front of people wanting to talk to them

(Image: CFJC Today, file photo)

By DENIS WALSH contributor

ON A LOCAL RADIO SHOW last week,  Coun. Dale Bass justified her recent notice of motion by saying it would “Keep communication with council the same as it was under the previous mayor… because it worked.” Worked for whom?

Denis Walsh.

I am not alone in my frustration with the limited and often obstacle-filled paths available to address City council and administration.

It seems some at City Hall are more concerned with limiting public input and silencing dissenting views than hearing what voters and other residents have to say.

Over the past few terms, city administration and/or council have removed accessible ways for residents to authentically engage with City Hall about current issues or to highlight matters of concern:

• The City of Kamloops has blocked public comments on its social media platforms.

• The City’s website is incomplete and awkward to navigate.

• No mechanism for public delegations to apply to address committees is available.

• Councillors are no longer required to reply to all emails.

Even worse, there seems to be an unofficial but explicit City Hall list of residents deemed to be ‘nuisances,’ not because they are rude or unreasonable, but due to a perception that they send too-frequent emails or make too many calls to the City.

Apparently, there is an unwritten rule that these correspondents are not entitled to any response or attention. How dare City Hall stifle engagement by those most engaged? Could City Hall’s lack of interest in public input be a factor in low voter turnout?

Now Coun. Bass has proposed a notice of motion that reduces yet another pathway for engagement.

Her motion arises from the Jan. 31 public council meeting during which, in the interest of open public participation and consultation, Mayor Hamer-Jackson allowed West Victoria business owners and others to freely voice their concerns.

I was delighted to see our new mayor has also taken the muzzle off councillors and is allowing them to interact with Public Inquiry presenters.

Coun. Bass complained that “many of the speakers on the inquiry part, which is supposed to be questions, just stood up and talked and talked and talked and made the meeting needlessly too long.”

Imagine, a well-paid elected public servant having to sit and listen to the public for an hour or two.

She also fussed that this extended council meeting combined with a public hearing later that day meant her working day was “13 hours long.”

This is not the fault of the public engaging with council. This is a scheduling issue. City administrators cram several different meetings into one day so councillors only have to show up for work at City Hall once every two weeks.

Coun. Bass shouldn’t be complaining about occasional four-hour meetings. This is not the norm. Often these public meetings are less than two hours in duration. She gets $42,000/yr for attending 22 regular council meetings, 12 (at most) public hearings, in-camera and committee meetings, and occasional events.

She, along with six other council members, receives an additional $15,000/yr for attending TNRD meetings. Coun. Bass is very well paid for her public service.

Regardless, she now wants council to mandate that residents cannot participate in the Public Inquiry portion of council meetings unless their query directly relates to something already on the council agenda, is posed as a question, and is limited to five minutes. These restrictions are extremely prohibitive for most residents and especially anyone uncomfortable with public speaking.

There are two opportunities for inquiries in a regular public meeting. Perhaps at least one of these opportunities could be less constraining, to allow residents more access to council as a whole. The mayor always reserves the authority to limit time based on the number of inquiries and can cut off a presentation if it becomes repetitive or if a point has already been made.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to setting ‘reasonable’ time limits and I am not interested in creating opportunities for angry outbursts, mean-spirited barbs or disrespectful attacks on staff or councillors.

This notice of motion from Coun. Bass seems to have been triggered by an extreme anomaly, as generally the majority of council meetings have no residents wishing to speak. Is this because everyone is content or is it a side effect of restrictive measures?

I urge this council to support and encourage open community discussion. I feel it is the role of our elected representatives to provide ample opportunity to allow residents to express and share their concerns.

This includes allowing a resident to address any issue of concern at public council meetings, not just those already on the agenda, and not necessarily posed as a question.

Denis Walsh is a Kamloops business person and a former Kamloops City councillor.

About Mel Rothenburger (9489 Articles) 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 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.

4 Comments on WALSH – Councillors put obstacles in front of people wanting to talk to them

  1. Another fantastic piece by Mr. Walsh. I am certain her boldness is fully supported and even encouraged by senior staff. One of the beauties of having RHJ as a mayor is the striking breach of protocols. The other is exposing the Bass belligerent pettiness and pointless politicking.

  2. From the pages of history, I had a glimmer of hope that helping one candidate become an elected councillor might mean an ongoing problem with “a dark line on the road” might be investigated.
    Instead, tight lips became tighter lips.
    I found out how expensive testing of water samples can be. To that end, I have the test results and the understanding that platitudes flow freely from elected members as well as staff.

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