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It’s a simple concept that most progressive municipal council meetings include in their agendas. At Clearview Township we have been asking for Public Participation since 2006. We set aside a 15min portion of our meeting to open the floor to comments and questions from the public on any topic that the public wishes to ask. We are limited by legislation to not include comments about items that have had a public meeting in the terms of a Planning Act application, or items of personal or litigation matters as you can appreciate, we can’t talk about these things. However, the floor is open during our regular council meetings.
My concern is that we have seen such limited use of this open period that it hasn’t offered the insight that council if looking for. Councillors are members of the public. Being tasked with the responsibility to make decisions comes with the responsibility to find all the information and opinions relevant to the subject. Making a well informed decision is the goal of an engaged member of council. We often ask for community engagement, or community input through survey work or public meetings at council.
It’s been my observation that some members of the public have an opinion about issues before a council meeting, they attend and speak casually with members and staff, but they don’t appear at the microphone to speak openly when it’s time to do so. I have seen it time and again that an issue is talked about and ideas tossed about, but when council ask for input, few people respond.
So what can we do to better communicate your opinion or questions for council?
I propose that members of council, all of us, make ourselves available for social discussion and casual conversation in the chambers prior to the gavel being stuck to open the agenda. I would ask that our clerk staff be present during this Open Communication to allow all members to hear and engage with a citizen’s concerns or questions.
Our meetings have a start time that is published and confirmed by the clerks staff. However, a meeting doesn’t begin until the chair calls for the start of the agenda. I believe that our residents deserve to know that their council is listening to them and open to hearing their concerns.
The formality of a government procedure is something that can create stress and heartache for some. We can work with common sense and respect for each other to move our community forward while keeping a council meeting within the legislation.
Coffee anyone ?