Motion from Bass suggests time cap on public inquiries during council meetings

Limit for council questions?

A Kamloops councillor wants to see city hall re-establish time limits for members of the public who speak up during council meetings, saying that running an efficient meeting shows respect for others involved in the process.

Coun. Dale Bass put forward a motion, which will be discussed and voted on during a Feb. 28 council meeting, asking staff to prepare a bylaw amendment establishing time limits for public inquiries during regular meetings and public hearings.

Bass said it’s possible to accommodate the public while avoiding turning “a business meeting into a marathon.”

“The council meeting is fundamentally doing the business of council — it’s a business meeting, it's not a public hearing. And if you look at the agenda, it says, ‘Public inquiries into items on the agenda.’ That means ask a question,” Bass said.

"That does not mean stand up there and take over the meeting, because that's disrespectful to the other people who are waiting to ask a question. … There are many, many ways of having public input to council beyond that.”

Bass’s motion suggests a five-minute time limit for questions raised during a council meeting. For public hearings, the motion suggests a five-minute limit with the option for additional time once everyone wishing to speak has already been heard.

The motion comes about a week after a council meeting stretched for 4.5 hours — 82 minutes of which were spent hearing from about nine members of the public who attended to speak — on a day where mayor and councillors had a number of other engagements.

Bass said council had started the day (Jan. 31) with a 9 a.m. meeting, followed by two others at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. The council meeting began at 1:30 p.m., and was followed by another meeting and finally a 7 p.m. public hearing.

"How alert will people be after 10 or 11 hours? We did not give those presenting — who have waited weeks to present their case at a public hearing — 115 per cent of our attention, which is what they were due,” Bass said.

She said when meetings go long, it also impacts city staff who are present at the meetings — not just council — and noted several councillors also have day jobs.

“I don't want to put them in the position where their day job is in jeopardy because we can't run a tight, efficient, effective meeting where the public has input to ask one question, two questions, three questions, four questions — doesn’t matter," Bass said.

"Just ask your question. We'll give you the answer.”

She said she understands the need for public input, and added last term, a five-minute limit imposed by former Mayor Ken Christian seemed to work well.

However, Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson said he believes members of the public shouldn’t be limited when addressing mayor and councillors during a council meeting.

"I think I'm capable enough to know when somebody is going off too long,” said Hamer-Jackson, who chairs the council meetings.

He said he believes council should be prepared to meet until 11 p.m. on Tuesdays if necessary.

“Not that we want to do that," the mayor said. "But if we have people, citizens of our community that have some serious issues that they want to deal with, why don't we let them speak?"

When asked if consistently long council meetings might deter some members of the public — including those with young families and other responsibilities — from running for elected office in the future, Hamer-Jackson said he didn't want to speculate on that.

Bass said there are several ways elected officials make themselves reachable to members of the public, adding councillors are available to meet residents for coffee, have phone conversations or attend neighbourhood association meetings.

“We can agree to meet them at city hall. I have gone to people's homes to meet with them and hear their viewpoints, answer their questions," she said.

"I've been stopped in the grocery store. It's not like Tuesday is the only time they can contact us."

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