Port Alberni city council will not be going back to evening meetings, but councillors are hoping to engage with the public during evening committee of the whole meetings instead.
On Monday, Nov. 28, council agreed to keep regular meeting times at 2 p.m. Committee of the whole meetings, meanwhile, will be moved from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Council will review the meeting times one year from now, with public engagement, to determine whether they need to be changed again.
Councillor Charles Mealey made a motion on Monday to change both regular meeting times and committee of the whole meeting times to the evening, noting that he has heard comments from members of the public who have a hard time attending afternoon meetings.
“I know that I’m giving up a day’s work every time to come here,” he said. “And I know there’s a lot of people like that. So I just want to give it a chance.”
However, other councillors disagreed with this motion, on the basis that evening meetings are less productive and nine-to-five jobs aren’t as common as they used to be.
Mayor Sharie Minions noted that council meeting times were shifted back in 2019 from a 7 p.m. start time to a 2 p.m. start time because this is the time that worked better for most councillors and city staff.
Councillor Debbie Haggard agreed, pointing out that the public is able to access meetings anytime because they are livestreamed and recorded on the city’s website and on YouTube.
“There are lots of opportunities for the public to ask questions without actually being at the meeting,” she said. ““Council is tasked with making very difficult decisions for the community. Staff and council have to be at their best.”
However, Mealey felt that the decision should be based on what works best for the public, not council.
“I’m not thinking about my performance, I’m thinking about the people who put us in these seats and how they can access us better,” he said.
The motion was eventually amended to change committee of the whole meeting times to the evening, but to keep regular council meeting times the same. Minions said she wants to see council use committee of the whole meetings more regularly to engage with the public.
“I think those committee of the whole meetings are really our opportunity to have community engagement, to slow down our decision-making and make sure we can get members of the public there,” she said.
This amended motion was passed, with councillors Todd Patola and Mealey voting against it. The decision will be reviewed in one year’s time.