When it comes to listening to the public, Penticton city council now has some defined procedures for how that interaction is to take place.
Karen Burley, the city’s corporate officer, brought forward two policies to council this week, one dealing with public hearings and the other with delegations to council.
Procedures for delegations were embedded in other policies, said Burley, there wasn’t anything definitive describing the process for getting on the agenda to speak to council.
“Often I would get a phone call on the day of the council meeting and someone would want to speak on something. It would be frustrating when I would have to try to explain the process,” said Burley.
That process, she said, now includes an application form.
In the past, Burley explained, she has had requests from people who refuse to say what their delegation wants to address with council. Others have wanted to bring items before council that are outside the city’s jurisdiction, like disputes between neighbours.
“This formalizes the process a little more in terms of the public speaking to council. Primarily what it does is by having the public fill out an application form, it allows council to have the presentation in advance of the meeting so they can properly consider the topic,” said Burley. “It also ensures the topics being presented are within council’s scope of authority.”
The new policy also limits delegations to four and sets out deadlines for getting on the next council agenda — 1 p.m. the prior Wednesday — and for those wishing to respond to a delegation already on the agenda — 9:30 a.m. Monday to be considered for the late agenda.
“Four is more of a magic number for people just wanting to come to council to talk about matters. It just helps to better manage the agenda,” said Burley, who explains that it would be very unusual to receive four requests to speak on a new topic.
“But absolutely, if there is a topic that is creating a lot of activity in the community, council would not want to deny them the opportunity to speak.”
The new delegation policy also gives Burley the authority to refuse repeat delegations that are not offering any new information. In those cases, she would circulate the delegation’s brief to council, who would have the opportunity to choose to hear the delegation.
“We always use our best judgment with that kind of stuff too. Nobody wants to be rigid with rules, but you have to have a bit of a process,” said Burley. “That is why we are encouraging people to provide a written brief on what they want to talk about. It just keeps things in check a little bit.”
Similar adjustments have been made to the public hearing policy, setting out deadlines for correspondence and submissions to be received in order to be part of the public record. It also includes a provision for council to require a speakers’ list for larger public meetings.
Mayor Dan Ashton said that proved useful in some of the “more engaged” public hearings, helping ensure everyone had an opportunity to speak.
“As chair of the meeting we will ensure that everyone has an opportunity to get their ideas put forward,” said Ashton. “That is important in the public process for that transparency. We will make darn sure that happens even if they have to come up a couple of times.”