Along with shifting Penticton city council’s regular meetings from Monday evening to Tuesday afternoon, a new procedure bylaw also increased restrictions on the public’s ability to question and provide input to council.
According to the new bylaw, council sessions will shift to 1 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of the month, starting with the Sept. 20 meeting. The public portions of the meeting will be broken up into two sections: council will deal with delegations and staff presentations not requiring a decision, along with committee, board and staff reports during the afternoon session before going in camera. At 6 p.m. council returns to the public for public hearings, bylaws and permits, land and other matters.
Along with those changes, corporate officer Dana Schmidt also updated rules regarding public input, with only four delegations per session, and only two delegations per topic, one for, and one against.
“That is just in hopes of making a topic complete and succinct all at once instead of having it meeting after meeting,” said Schmidt.
Mayor Andrew Jakubeit defended the two delegation limit when questioned whether some issues might be more nuanced than simple pro and con camps. That, he said, would be up to the people involved to deal with, using the recent discussion over wine in grocery stores as an example.
“… figure out who your spokesperson is going to be for your aligned groups and come with your messaging. If you are con, same thing,” said Jakubeit.
“Everyone has an opportunity to send letters or emails. That is one avenue.”
New limits to question period, with a 15-minute maximum for both public and media to question council, and a two-minute time limit for each question to be asked did draw some concern from council.
“I understand what we are trying to do, but everybody should at least have the opportunity to ask a question,” said Coun. Andre Martin, an attitude echoed by Couns. Campbell Watt and Helena Konanz.
“We may, if we limit it to 15 minutes, lose the ability to hear from someone who didn’t get a chance to speak. I don’t think I could support that,” said Watt. Council agreed to strike the 15-minute limit from the bylaw, which then passed unanimously.
During question period, Lynn Kelsey, a regular audience member, expressed concern that there would only be a single question period in the evening, after the two-part council meeting.
“There would be a necessity for me to be here at the 1 p.m. meeting and then to come back at 6 p.m. for the rest of it, in order to ask questions about the 1 p.m. meeting,” said Kelsey. “I think that needs a little bit of a rethink, because otherwise you are going to have people not knowing when they can ask questions or being extremely inconvenienced by having to come back to ask their questions.
“It doesn’t feel good at all. It is certainly not inclusive, it is very exclusive in terms of the public.”
Jakubeit agreed with Kelsey’s concerns, and said council would work on way to address the issue for both public and the media.