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Do public inquiries have a place at council meetings? Gibsons debates format changes

Changes to Gibsons's Procedures Bylaw sees regular meetings reduced to once a month (rather than twice a month), the elimination of a bylaw-set order of proceedings and delegations limited to one per meeting
Gibsons municipal hall b
Town of Gibsons just changed its Procedures Bylaw as part of an effort to shake up public engagement.

Gibsons council adopted revisions to its Procedures Bylaw that sees regular meetings reduced to once a month (rather than twice a month), the elimination of a bylaw-set order of proceedings and delegations limited to one per meeting, among other amendments, at a special meeting Dec. 15

The changes are part of Mayor Silas White’s plan to overhaul council’s community engagement, moving public inquiries and discussion to other kinds of meetings (such as committees of the whole and public dialogue sessions). 

Coun. Annemarie De Andrade was the lone councillor who voted against the change. 

At the top of the meeting, De Andrade made a motion that “inquiries regarding agenda items be included as an item on the agenda for all regular council meetings,” which died with no seconder. 

Later in the meeting De Andrade re-iterated her belief that the public should have the opportunity to ask questions. 

Six letters to council attached to the agenda spoke of concerns with the Procedures Bylaw changes, several citing the removal of public inquiries and the reduction to one council meeting a month.

“I think there is a way to do inquiries. I just think it should be part of our community engagement, part of our strategic plan, and we can discuss it more rather than trying to hash it out at council,” said Coun. Stafford Lumley in the discussion.

Coun. David Croal echoed Lumley's comments. “It's important to have the engagement with the community, but it needs to be I think a little more appropriate and respectful format than it has tended to follow in the past.”

White added, “We're looking at a complete renewal of public dialogue in Gibsons and that requires changing processes and not staying with the status quo.”

De Andrade said she appreciated the comments but until the format or solution is formalized, inquiries should remain. 

Coun. Christi Thompson said that the public is being offered the opportunity of more time for engagement. “Because we're being very specific to a subject matter, that people can come in prepared for. And we can actually have more access to varied opinions,” she said, and asked De Andrade where she felt the lack is. 

“Actually, if the community meetings would address a lot of the questions, then we won't have too many inquiries after this, this will solve it,” said De Andrade, but not everyone can attend a meeting and other questions arise. “And to me, it's almost an act to not allow the public to ask the question. I think it’s very oppressive. I don't really see the goal.”

White said that he’s open to people asking him questions anytime and after meetings. 

Looking to 2023

Also at the Dec. 15 meeting, council adopted its 2023 meeting schedule, with budget deliberations heating up at the end of January and the preliminary operations budget coming to committee of the whole Feb. 21. Council also approved scheduling community dialogue sessions in the first three months of 2023, including a session on the strategic plan and budget.