Overshadowed by talk of an investigation into the Spector 360 spyware program, a final reading of a reformed approach to public input and participation at Saanich council meetings flew under the radar last Monday.
As of April 20, the new bylaw will allow residents five minutes to speak on all agenda items, as well as a monthly open forum session for public concerns not on the agenda. The new model will replace public input that was previously restricted to committee of the whole agenda items.
The changes also allow up to two delegations, or scheduled presentations, to council on relevant topics. With the change, Oak Bay is now the only known B.C. municipality that does not allow delegations at council.
“One thing that stands out is the three-minute cap at the monthly open forum, which we might have to revisit in six to eight months, based on how it goes,” said Coun. Colin Plant, who tabled the public input reform in January.
The three-minute open forum – which will allow residents a place to air their concerns following council business – will be at the discretion of the chair to allow the speaker to go over the allotted time, he said.
“If it’s clear the topic is valid and the speaker is nearly finished making their point, I’m sure they’ll be allowed to finish. We’re not going to cut someone off who’s nearly finished,” Plant added.
Expanding public input options at council was something the rookie councillor and others touted during the November election campaign.
By giving residents a chance to speak or question agenda items, situations such as former mayor Frank Leonard’s governance review question on the Nov. 15 ballot would likely have happened differently. In that case, the governance review passed with little public questioning by council, but under the new rules would now be subject to public response.
“Under the previous model brought there was less opportunity for public to provide feedback, and that scenario would now be open to all,” Plant said. “The perception of open governance is something I thought will help make Saanich great.”
Plant credits Mayor Richard Atwell for suggesting an additional opportunity to allow delegations to speak, which is limited to two parties per council and must be registered ahead of time. Applications for delegations to speak at council should be showing up on the saanich.ca website later this week.
It’s important to remember that the intention of open forum meetings is not to provide an opportunity to question staff, Plant noted. Staff are available at municipal hall if residents want to get in touch with them.
“We can’t fix things on the spot,” he said. “The open forum is a chance to share ideas and concerns with council.”