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EDITORIAL: Engagement goes both ways

Council recently voted to keep their public meetings at 2 p.m.
Port Alberni City Hall. (AV NEWS FILE PHOTO)

Port Alberni City Council’s decision to keep its afternoon council meeting times will not stifle public participation in city matters.

Council recently voted to keep their public meetings at 2 p.m., but move committee of the whole meetings to a later time.

The city’s new schedule is a suitable compromise: council has pledged to use committee of the whole meetings as a way to increase public engagement, and has moved the time for these meetings from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Committees of the whole offer a place for council members and the public to talk informally about issues and proposals before a formal recommendation is made for council to consider.

Council has promised to revisit the decision in a year—a win-win.

Public participation in local decision-making is a vital part of British Columbia’s local government system. There are formal ways that councils must interact with the public, and these are laid out in the Local Government Act—bylaws, policies, procedures, formal structures for holding meetings, making announcements, taking votes, etc.

There are other ways that people can ask questions of and seek input on municipal decisions from their elected officials. There are public question periods, meetings are livestreamed and also available after the fact on the city’s YouTube channel. Agendas are posted the Friday before a public meeting, and members of the public can request to be added to an agenda to speak as a delegation or during public input and question periods. Committees of the whole fall into this more informal category.

The city does not yet have a means for the public to e-mail questions in real time while a council meeting is in progress, but we are hopeful this is one of the upgrades the technical department is investigating. While city officials have said there is no procedure in place to allow for real-time questions, procedures can be modified or added in a fairly efficient manner.

Engagement isn’t solely the responsibility of council staff and elected officials. The interested public must also take responsibility to find out all the ways they can interact with the people elected to govern the city.

If afternoon council meetings are truly inconvenient for the public, it is up to the public to prove city council wrong.

— Alberni Valley News