The public comment section of Village of Telkwa council meetings is safe after a debate at the last regular meeting on its use and future.
Mayor Carman Graf brought the issue to the table last week, suggesting the bylaw that allows public to make comments be erased from the books.
“I don’t enjoy being grilled about things that we didn’t discuss at the meeting,” said Graf. “My preference is we eliminate that part of the procedure bylaw.”
He suggested that if it does stay that it be clarified that it should only be for issues discussed at the meeting and nothing that wasn’t on the agenda.
The bylaw, as it is, reads, “Members of the public may address Council at the end of the meeting. Mayor, Council, and Staff may respond as they see fit; however, no response is required.”
Councillor Rimas Zitkauskas, who referred to the bylaw’s turbulent history (he said it’s gone from public question, to public comment, to no comment allowed at all, then back to public comment) said that public comment is important to guide future council decisions.
“I know that I gave some members of council a hard time while I was a member of the public, and I’ve received a hard time as a member of council from the public,” he said. “What we need to come up with is a clarification of the intent [of public comment].”
He said he would support the bylaw only being for comment on things that refer to that meetings agenda.
“I believe that the ability of the public to provide us feedback on the proceedings of this public hearing is important and it’s part of the democratic process,” he said.
He added that he would also support semi-regular, informal meetings, such as barbecues hosted by the mayor where people could interact and ask questions of councillors and staff in informal ways.
Councillor Rick Fuerst agreed with Zitkauskas and said that comments from the public help him have the information he needs when the public asks him questions later.
“There’s a million different things going on a million different times sometimes with people in the village and to try to keep up on it all is hard and to be asked questions point blank, in front of the media and everything, it’s tough to come up with an answer,” he said.
He said that if there’s a larger issue that a person wants to speak to they can come to council as a delegation.
New councillor Brad Layton said that public comment definitely needs to stay and suggested that forms be made available at the office for people to fill out if they do have any specific questions, to allow council time to get answers.
“For them to stand up and make a comment and not be able to voice their question somehow before they go home that night doesn’t help them much,” said Layton.
Zitkauskas supported that idea, and added that such an ability does exist online for people who are connected.
Zitkauskas wrapped up discussion by proposing a motion that public comment period be for comments only and to limit the discussion to items that are on the agenda. That motion passed unanimously.