Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Public Notices and Public Hearings

Courtesy of the City of Quesnel:

City Council is a formal body governed by provincial laws, particularly the Community Charter and the Local Government Act. When individuals are elected to Council they take on special responsibilities above and beyond those imposed on them as private citizens, and many of those responsibilities are outlined in the aforementioned governing laws. One critical responsibility is to follow the letter of the law with respect to giving notice of Council meetings and public hearings; another is to be fully transparent and fully public in the process of making decisions (except where the law states that meetings must initially be held “in-camera,” or closed to the public, specifically with respect to legal, labour, and land decisions, but even these decisions should be made public as soon as possible and allowable).
Yet, despite always adhering to the law (and most often going above and beyond the basic requirements of the law) with respect to giving notice of public hearings, Council is regularly accused of not giving sufficient notice of these meetings and is often asked to postpone decision-making until more notice is given and more people can participate. If Council always acted on these demands for more time and more consultation we’d never be able to make a decision in a timely manner. As I’ve stated many times before, most decisions of Council involve compromise and trade offs, and we rarely please everyone as we try to lead our community through this transition period.
A case in point is the most recent public hearing held by Council with respect to a proposed bylaw to prohibit the use of shipping containers on residential properties (this would only apply to future use, not those currently in use). After a full two years of dialogue, debate, consultation, and a false start (the first attempt at a shipping container bylaw was rescinded by Council after a public hearing), only two businesses that sell shipping containers and one resident engaged Council in the recent public hearing process. These businesses simply asked Council to reschedule the public hearing without providing any insights into why more time was needed or what critical information might be gained by Council by further delaying this already long, drawn out process.
In my estimation, there are only two situations that should cause any elected body to reschedule or extend a public hearing: when the response from the public is so overwhelming that the scheduled time is too short to hear from everyone who wishes to speak to the matter at hand; and, when there are submissions which provide new information that the governing body had not taken into consideration in its deliberations to that point. Delaying a decision simply because some people claim they need more time or that they weren’t “informed” of a public hearing is simply an abrogation of leadership – again, in my personal opinion.
Council always wants to hear from the public and engage in a dialogue about the key decisions we need to make to ensure our community thrives during this challenging time. But, we still need to make decisions in a timely manner and, as such, we need the public to stay informed on an ongoing basis as, ultimately, it’s up to citizens to inform themselves and to engage in the decision-making process of Council in a timely manner.
The City of Quesnel uses every means available to keep the public informed of everything that’s going on in the City, including the various meetings of Council and its Committees. Public hearings are advertised in the Cariboo Observer and are listed on the City’s new website on the agendas and minutes page.
Bob Simpson is the Mayor of Quesnel.  He can be reached via email here

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