Prince Rupert City Council reviewed how it approaches the process
of the Committee of the Whole and public engagement on Monday evening.
As things turned out on Monday evening, the case for keeping an important element of local government in place, as it is currently designed, was best made by the residents of Prince Rupert.
A strong turn by west side residents at Council to speak towards a local issue on zoning provided for some clear evidence of the value of the opportunity for engagement that the City's Committee of the Whole process provides for.
The topic of the fate of the monthly Committee of the Whole session was first raised at the October 13th Council session, at that time Prince Rupert City Councillors had pencilled in a discussion on the topic for the end of October.
At Monday's Council session, more than one Council member took note of the large numbers in Council chambers on the night and observed that if there is a topic that resonates with the community, then people can be motivated to raise their concerns with the council.
As the discussion evolved over the course of the nine minutes, Council members offered up a range of opinions when it comes to keeping the current process as it is and to expand on the way they share information with the public.
Some of the key notes that Council members expressed as part of the exchange of ideas included:
Councillor Barry Cunningham
This is a prime example of why we need the community of the Whole meetings, the community gets to express what their concerns are about a specific variance or a specific incident ... A lot of the community came out to speak about this, I think its very important that we listen to the community and why the Committee of the Whole is a very important part of our meetings once a month. When people feel strongly about something they are more than willing to come and talk about it and I think its very important that we listen to the community ... that's why I think that the Committee of the Whole is important part of our meetings once a month. The COW as we call it is very important to this town ... giving the town the opportunity to come forth to Council when they can't normally is very, very important.
Councillor Blair Mirau
I definitely agree with you guys in terns of tonight being a prime example of the use of Committee of the Whole, the spirit of what Councillor Cunningham and I were going at in terms of what can we do to make Committee of the Whole more valuable ... how can we add value to the exercise of Committee of the Whole and where we need more discussion, how can we add value to something that we are already going to be doing on a regular basis when there is nothing on the Agenda.
Councillor Joy Thorkelson
I'm probably as old as most of the Graham Avenue people, I remember a time when I used to come to Council, before I was a Councillor to address things that were important, we addressed things import to the fishing industry, to labour, to come to council to talk about the dangers of nuclear bombs and allowing American subs into our harbour ... All kinds of issues to bring up to City council that aren't going to be Agenda Items, because they weren't Agenda items for the Council of the day, but they were Agenda items for those people in the community. Those things were not coming from council, but they were brought by the community to Council.
As for Mayor Brain, he offered up the following observations related to the Committee of the Whole and other engagement options.
"I definitely agree with that, I think tonight is exactly a prime example of the use of it, I think we have it for the reason to discuss business items particularly ... I think the issue was that it was being branded as a public engagement tool, but I don't see it as an engagement tool, as it is an opportunity for people to come make presentations, speak to specific issues that are Council business and then have other opportunities to have other public engagement opportunities outside of this area ... You are correct in saying that there are issues that arise where folks don't think to schedule it onto the Committee of the Whole, so I agree we should keep it going the way it is and I see it as a valuable tool"
As a follow up to some of the themes of the discussion, Councillor Cunningham noted that Council could add such elements as Reports from city departments and services, adding that the meetings are covered by local media and the public follows the council proceedings on television.
"It's all about transparency, you know if we don't talk about something, people think we're hiding something. So I really think by just by having an Open meeting and talking about things, people say wow they're not really hiding anything, there's no secret society in City Hall"
A larger overview of the discussion on the Committee Process can be found from our Council Timeline Feature here.
The City's video archive hosts the full exchange of ideas related to the Committee of the Whole discussion, the review starts at the 26 minute mark
For more notes related to City Council Discussions see our archive page here.
Those with an interest in the work of the City and its council can find a range of material from the blog, our archive of items for your potential review can be found here.