A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Public Meeting” about Public Meetings!

Next week Chatswoth Council is scheduled to “discuss” a by-law that lays out when and how the public should be notified about upcoming “public meetings”. Below is my letter to council on this matter. The full proposed document may be viewed here (thanks to Mr Falks ongoing efforts to make information more accessible) or in the 5Mb July 6th agenda package on the Township web site.

I see that the Public Meeting to discuss By-law 2016-32, Being a By-law to Establish a
Provision of Notice Policy, has been rescheduled to the July 20, 2016 regular meeting
of Council.

And that “Questions or comments can be provided in advance of the meeting by contacting
Grace Nayler, Deputy Clerk at gnayler@chatsworth.ca 519-794-3232 ext. 125.

This then is my comments upon this bylaw as included in the 159 page July 6th “Agenda package”.

I realize that in most cases the criteria for public meetings may be set by the municipal act and that this document sets minimum standards for notification of those “public” meeting not covered by such rules. In my opinion said standards as now written are far too low a standard to be put in a formal policy document. The following three clauses are particularly troubling.

Whilst I am sure it is not the intention of this council to keep the public in the dark this document as written gives them and future councils the leeway to do so, they may waive the requirements of this policy and thus not even follow the very low standards set (for meetings not covered by the municipal act) and thus hold a “Public Meeting” without notifying the public at all. This is obviously unacceptable in a democracy. Please consider increasing the minimum standards for notification and deleting the “escape” clause #7 entirely, clause #12 already gives you the ability to skip the requirements “in an emergency”. Additionally clause 1f permits notifications on the website to be hidden in a sub folder and NOT directly published or mentioned on the front page this should be updated to at least ensure a mention on the front page.

It is unclear exactly what the difference is between a council meeting (which already is a public meeting) and a “Public Meeting” designated as such, whether held separately or at the same time as a council meeting. Perhaps this needs to be clarified, are the rules for presenting before council different than those to present at a “public meeting”. I would assume that during a “Public Meeting” members of the public may speak to the issue without prior notice and that anyone wanting to ask questions or add to the discussion would be encouraged to do so. I assume that regular council meeting may have different rules.

Such criteria need to be clearly spelt out for both types of meetings (and readily available on the website) so that the pubic knows the routine should they wish to speak to any issue before council. Perhaps the definition of what constitutes a “Public Meeting” and the criteria for public participation need to be defined in the document?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

“Public” Meeting in Chatsworth?

I don’t often attend local council meetings but recently having been given a heads up by a taxpayer who is much more up on what is going on than myself I decided to do so to address some failures in a topic to be discussed in which I had an interest, The Notice of Public meeting, once I had found it tucked away on the website said that the official policy re the Township Website was to be discussed at the “Public Meeting” to be held as part of the regular council meeting and gave a contact email for further comments or information. I then did my research and sought out the document in question, a very difficult job given that said document was buried deep in a 139 page PDF agenda document. Fortunately the same fellow who had alerted me to the meeting also regularly does the enormous task of splitting said document into its component parts and posting links to them on his private website. The policy document then can be found here.

Having notified the township via the email provided that I wished to speak to this issue I then prepared a brief two page outline of the points I wished to raise. Primarily ways in which the website could be more “user friendly”, be more accessible and make documents much easier to access.

The “Public Meeting” portion of the meeting was scheduled for 11am and allowed for just 1/2 hr to cover this item and the “Notice of Public Meeting” Policy (now scheduled for July 20th), hardy enough to do much more than just touch upon the problems but enough to get a few point across I thought. There were two citizens who had contacted council on this matter, myself being one of them and both our names were on the agenda under the heading of 'website policy'. I arrived about 10.30 only to find that the council meeting, which presumably started at the scheduled time of 10am, was “running an hour behind”. Sure enough the website policy issue did not come up until after 12 noon (this after council has taken a coffee break leaving citizens sitting waiting for proceedings to continue, no coffee was offered to us!)

The first citizen was then called up (no mention of this being the “public” portion of the meeting) and told in no uncertain terms to keep his presentation short, (I note here that previous 'delegations were not given this instruction but were eventually persuaded that council had understood their concerns). The presentation was indeed kept short being less than 5 minutes and not covering half the items on the printed sheet circulated covering his concerns. The Chair then said we will take a break and then move on to (an item further down the agenda, I don’t recall what), having now sat waiting for an hour & a half to say my piece I then asked “do you want to finish up with the web policy issue before moving on?” as was told “I though we had”. SAY WHAT?

I had thought that this was a PUBLIC MEETING portion of council, least that what it said in the “Public Notice” and for that matter in the agenda. To not hear from someone who’s name was on the agenda let alone not ask for “public input” from those others present at a public meeting is very strange IMHO. Anyway I was having non of that and insisted on speaking, whilst reluctantly being allowed to do so was pressured into speaking for less than a minute, possibly two and interrupted at least once during that period and told to hurry up. No discussion took place, I had the distinct impression that council simply did not want to know. They then went for their second coffee break despite the supposed urgency of moving on the other business! I left in disgust!

A final note on this, as I walked out I was approached by the (Interim) CAO who was sitting in on the meeting and was pleasantly surprised that HE at least was appreciative of the points raised and offered to TRY and set up a meeting with those involved with the web site to discuss such issues. I must thank him for his “intervention” without which I would have left considerably more upset with councils handling of this “public meeting”. I hope that collectively we can soon drag the Chatsworth Website and Council into the information age.