Friday, October 11, 2019

Brevity for City Council sessions, leaves much left unsaid in public forum

Despite being away from the City Hall Council chamber for over a month and with a fair bit of travel for the Mayor and Council in that period of time; the elected members of municipal government seemingly could not come up with much to talk about at their first public session since early September on Monday night.

If it had not been for the late addition of a presentation from UFAWU-Unifor's Joy Thorkelson on Monday, the four of seven council members who attended their first meeting of October would have been out the door in less than fifteen minutes.

The Monday night review of civic governance provided for a thirty seven minute symposium on the struggles of the fishing sector this year and a call for some civic help to get the word out of the need for assistance.

That presentation then followed by a quick march through an Agenda which took but fourteen minutes to wrap up.

The focus for the night a pair of property variance requests, the August Financial variance report from the City's CFO, some forward momentum for the Permissive Property Tax Exemption bylaw, approval for a letter to CN on issues related to VIA Rail service to the city and the approval of the approval of communication policy for the City.

None of which elicited much in the way of comment from the Council members on the night.

When it came to the Council comments portion of the evening, only Councillor Nick Adey found a few things to share on the evening.

With Mr. Adey recounting some of his observations on the recent UBCM meeting in Vancouver and to make some inquiries of Communication Manager Veronika Stewart on the theme of lead in the pipes of local homes and how residents may gain some assurance for their home water.

That topic did generate some commentary from the Mayor, who spoke to the city's future plans for a water treatment system for the city and to reassure residents that the city wasn't delivering that lead to their residences.

And while the topic of water was up for discussion, none of the Council members made note of the actual Boil Water Notice that remained effect for the Section Two area as they hosted their meeting on Monday.

Something which seems like a lost opportunity to reassure those residents that they were working on the issue.

That's not the only area where they skipped over a chance to provide some updates for the public as part of their regular Council program.

While they were away from the chamber in September there were a number of potential discussion themes that popped up on the civic  radar and surely could have required some official commentary.

Starting with the Mayor's journey to Alaska for the Southeast Conference talks and his efforts towards keeping Prince Rupert as a destination for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

As we have all seen since those meetings, the service came to an end for the foreseeable future last month, the last sailing coming on September 30th with the departiure of the MV Malaspina,

And while Mr. Brain did offer some short updates through his social media platform of Facebook, there was no more detailed update for the public at Monday's City Council session.

The Mayor and Council letting slip by a chance to review the plan, or plans that he shared with the Alaskans, or for Council members to ask questions or make observations.

While the Mayor was away during that same period of time, there was a short lived tent city protest that was in place at City Hall.

The immediate issues that led to the protest seemingly taken care of, but still the larger issue of the need for more housing for the homeless one that remains unaddressed so far.

Council members made no mention of that issue on Monday, and the closed door approach that seems to be the focus of the city's plans, pales in comparison to the wide ranging public forum hosted by the City of Terrace last month.

Of the two approaches to the issue, Prince Rupert's seems inclined not to want to take the pulse of the community as to what solutions could be available, or what concerns the public may have.

The start of the month saw the RCMP and Bylaw officers taking the brunt of some public commentary related to the shooting of a dog in the Seal Cove area.

One month later, the council members have yet to offer any comment related to that incident, not even a reminder for pet owners to ensure that their dogs remain safely secured in their homes or yards, so other similar scenarios don't have to be addressed.

Students in the City twice took to the steps of City Hall in recent weeks to raise awareness on climate issues, an event retweeted on the Mayor's Social platform, but the campaign one that was not mentioned in the public council session of Monday, that despite the city's dedication towards Sustainability.

The week long convention of UBCM should have offered opportunity for the Council members to explain what it is they do during the UBCM event, but other than the notes offered up by Councillor Adey, there was little to learn of their week long trip to Vancouver.

While the Mayor makes good use of his Social media forum and can enjoy some praise from a loyal group of very dedicated followers, the remainder of the Council membership for the most part only have the public Council forum to make their voices heard.

And far too often it seems they have few contributions to make and appear content to just provide for the backdrop for the Council photograph.

The Council year so far has been one where the public meetings rarely last more than an hour and more often than not, last much less, with little in the way of background or detail on the themes they do  address delivered by the members.

The bulk of their work of late seems directed more towards the closed meetings and workshops where we imagine that the elected members do engage in vigorous discussion and where overview takes place, though we can hardly know for sure.

The messages that come out of those non public sessions are then crafted for Social media, which seems to be the new filtered conduit if anyone wants to get updates, though mostly that becomes the Mayor's pulpit not that of the remainder of Council.

The focus for achieving goals of transparency, accountability and the delivery of civic measures shouldn't come from the controlled themes of a Facebook page, twitter shout out, or some other social media platform.

But rather, we elect the Council members to do their work through a public forum, one where we have sent them to discuss and debate the important issues for the community.

On Monday, the city rolled out a new Communication Policy one that made a nod towards this increased use of Social media and how the city's new approach to informing the public should be delivered.

There was some irony in that review from Monday, and all that focus on the new communication tools that they now have  available for their message making.

Framed as it was from the public forum, which should be where the Council members should have the most to share with the public;  but of late has become the one place where they more often that not have the least to say and frequently seem to be in a bit of rush to get out of.

For a look at Monday's fourteen minute review see our Council Timeline feature.

A wider look at some past Council Discussion themes, both from the council chamber and increasingly from other locales  can be explored through our Council Discussion archive.

To return to the most recent blog posting of the day, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment