New meeting structure coming for Port Alberni city council

Port Alberni city council plans to hold monthly committee of the whole meetings in order to engage the public and hold more debate.

City clerk Davina Hartwell presented a report to council during a Feb. 14 meeting with options for committee meetings.

“The most important thing to note about committee of the whole is that they’re an opportunity to discuss issues, ideas in a more informal setting,” she said.

Committee of the whole meetings will be subject to council’s procedures and bylaws, and Hartwell suggested that council should look into a regular schedule, as it is easier to cancel meetings than to arrange them.

Councillor Denis Sauvé said he feels that committee of the whole meetings are not needed. “Every time I’ve been here on council, any controversial issues so far, we always have time for debate.

I don’t think we refuse any public to come up front and raise their concerns.

“Tonight, just looking at the crowd, we have six residents right here,” he pointed out. “I feel we’re doing a good enough job on council, we’re listening to the people, we’re interested. And every time they’re given an opportunity, trust me, there’s a lot of vacant seats here, so I’ll just leave it at that.”

Councillor Sharie Minions agreed that members of the public are given opportunities to speak, but said that some find it “awkward” to come before council. “I think there are times when it’s late in the evening and we feel we need to rush our conversations,” she added.

She said the benefit of a committee would be informed and effective decision-making. She provided the example of the McLean Mill kitchen, which was pitched to city council by members of the McLean Mill Society during a regular council meeting. “We heard a presentation, and then we voted on it right away. We didn’t really have time to absorb the information, we didn’t have time to go out and think more about the information that was provided to us that night. We didn’t hear from a lot of people in the public before we made that decision.”

Since then, she said, she has received more feedback from the public. “But we’d already made the decision, so it was already too late. So I see this as an opportunity for us to engage the public, give them more time before we make the decision, and give ourselves more time to think about decisions before we make them.”

Council agreed to direct staff to develop terms of reference for committee of the whole meetings once a month with the ability to cancel when needed.

Port Alberni resident Neil Anderson stepped forward during the question period to say that he disagreed with Sauvé that further debate isn’t needed.

“[Committee of the whole] is going to enhance dialogue between the public and the council,” he said.

Once staff develops a terms of reference, a start date for committee of the whole meetings will be determined.


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