Question time questioned

Ladysmith council’s new guidelines for question period after meetings is drawing the ire of many local residents.

  • Jan. 17, 2011 11:00 a.m.

Ladysmith council’s new guidelines for question period after meetings is drawing the ire of many local residents.

Cathy Gilroy, who wrote a letter to council outlining her concerns, said locally she would like to see more openness with question period.

Gilroy said it is often after they have had a chance to digest the information people may have questions that, under the new guidelines, could be turned down at the next meeting.

“By the next meeting you are not allowed to talk about it,” said Gilroy.

Gilroy said she understands people can take their concerns to individual councillors or the mayor, but the question never becomes public record.

“That’s what really bother me most is lack of public record,” said Gilroy.

Gilroy said the council minutes don’t accurately reflect the context in which the questions are asked.

Gilroy said she is not looking for a verbatim recount of the meeting, but the context often gets lost in translation.

Gilroy, who has been a recorder, said she would like to see better recording of the public questioning aspect of meetings.

Gilroy said she suggested having a few minutes open at the end of the meeting for open discussion (time permitting), but the idea was not broached by council.

Instead, they offered the idea of having 15 minutes prior to the meeting, which Gilroy thinks would be hard to work out.

“They quite often have their executive session before the meeting,” said Gilroy, noting the timing is tight and if held earlier, people may have to work.

Gilroy said she would also like to see more ‘Town Hall-style meetings’ where issues could be addressed in an open forum.

Gilroy said she would also like to see the town resurrect their newsletter.

To a person who has never attended a meeting, looking at the guidelines may look uninviting, she said.

“Reading those guidelines, coming at that cold … that looks like the door has slammed shut,” said Gilroy.

Mayor Rob Hutchins, at the Jan. 10 meeting, said the guidelines follow an incident where one person was asking what Hutchins said were irrelevant questions.

Hutchins also said he made an error in committing council to action in the past before receiving proper guidance from council.

Coun. Steve Arnett was chair of the Government Services Committee when the questions were presented to them and also brought the guidelines back for discussion at the regular council meeting on Jan. 10.

Arnett said he pulled the guidelines for further discussion because of the controversy they were generating to talk about it further.

The guidelines are meant to formalize the question period and sets down rules for everyone, “in such a way that we make sure that we have a transparent, open and accountable government but we have a managed meeting that doesn’t go on for hours,” said Arnett.

“This policy should never be a place that we hide behind and not answer legitimate questions of the public’s right to know.”

The guidelines are also a way to curtail ‘he said, she said-type’ questions and answers.

Arnett said council often takes questions from people ‘with axes to grind’ and said the question period guidelines are supposed to help strike a balance at meetings and foster respect.

Arnett said he welcomes and enjoys discussions at meetings, so long as parties involved stay respectful.

Arnett said most municipalities around the Island have question periods. Ladysmith’s guidelines, he said, are close to those of North Saanich.

Arnett said recording only the motion and decision is standard practice.

But, he would also like to see a mechanism in place for people to be able to follow up on questions asked of staff.

Arnett realizes there are people who are upset about their adoption and said he knows he can’t make

“In November, there will be an election … if people say, ‘you come up short, man,’ that’s democracy,” said Arnett.