Councillors vote down mayor's town hall motion, note project was already approved

Mayor's motion 'redundant'

A motion put forward by Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson to establish a town hall meeting was voted down by councillors who said the proposal was "redundant" because the project was approved by council earlier this year.

Hamer-Jackson’s motion suggested council direct staff to find a date to host a town hall — a public forum where residents can share comments and ask questions of city officials — because people who show up at regular council meetings can only ask questions about topics on the agenda.

Coun. Mike O’Reilly said this was something that was already “in the works” with the community relations and reconciliation standing committee.

“I just question where your urge came from to supersede what the committee was already working on, based on what all of council was looking to do and to set it up practically and very purposefully, rather than than something that would be so wide open,” O’Reilly said.

“What committee? Is that the one on hold?” Hamer-Jackson shot back.

“Yes, for about another week or two,” O’Reilly replied.

Hamer-Jackson said he just wanted to see the town hall proposal get off the ground.

At the end of February, council adopted a motion directing staff to establish speaking limits for the public during council meetings, and charging the committee to work on developing a town hall pilot project.

A few weeks after this vote, Hamer-Jackson made changes to standing committees including removing some councillors as chairs, and appointing citizens, including some who financially supported his election campaign. Amid concerns around a fair vetting process, among other considerations, council voted to suspend the committees pending a review.

The review has since been completed, with staff directed to bring forward recommendations on a new, hybrid approach to using committees, and a fair process for the appointment of citizens.

Coun. Katie Neustaeter said as a member of the committee responsible for the town hall project, she had been excited about the project, and was disappointed when committee work was disrupted.

She said she felt a town hall would have been held by now had that not happened.

“This is a dog whistle. That is all that this is, is a front for this motion — for something we already voted on. I unequivocally support community engagement, but this is a dog whistle,” Neustaeter said.

She said she "desperately" wants town halls, but couldn't vote on something that she'd already voted on.

"It's redundant, it’s ridiculous, and we cannot support it."

Coun. Stephen Karpuk said council as a whole is in favour of community engagement and receiving feedback, but in order to be meaningful, a town hall needs to be executed well.

“We need to do it in a way that reflects the corporation's capacity to answer the questions, and our ability to get something from this rather than just going through an exercise," he said.

Hamer-Jackson had made comments earlier in the meeting about wanting to hold a town hall meeting in June, and some councillors questioned the practicality of that plan.

“Just to have a town hall meeting to have a town hall meeting — it’s not a good way to do business. It's not a good way to engage our residents,” said Coun. Bill Sarai.

Hamer-Jackson said he thought a Sandman Centre lounge was available in mid-June, and he had already talked with a local business about the possibility of booking them to provide audio-visual equipment.

Amanda Passmore, the city’s deputy corporate officer, said holding a June meeting would be “virtually impossible” because city facilities are busy or booked up and audio-visual vendors have to be secured. Such a meeting would also need to be advertised well in advance to ensure people can attend.

Passmore added it would be up to staff to contact contractors to arrange for audio-visual equipment.

The motion was defeated 1-8, with Hamer-Jackson the only vote in favour.

“No town hall meetings anytime soon — sorry everybody,” Hamer-Jackson said, immediately following the vote.

“That’s not true,” Sarai countered.

“My committee, when it’s re-formed, it will have a town hall meeting done properly with all the support of council — including you, Mr. Mayor, if you want to get on board with it now. Town hall meetings are coming, so please do not be telling the public something that’s untrue.”

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