If you want to ask questions of Vernon council, it won’t be in an open mic session.
Council voted unanimously against having open mic sessions for questions from the public following a two-page report prepared by administrator Will Pearce. Staff had been asked to review occasions for members of the public to have “periodic opportunities to address council at an open mic sessions.”
“In short, the public have a host of opportunities to bring forward their respective concerns, issues and input to council,” said Pearce. “And hundreds of residents and business owners take advantage of the many opportunities and participate in shaping their community.”
Opportunities to address council include public hearings, appearing as a delegation, public engagement on parks projects, recreation facilities and large-scale projects, or by e-mail and phone calls.
Pearce said providing an open mic session during, before or after a regular meeting would mean council would likely only hear from a very small number of residents and businesses, “who tend to appear and reappear before council on numerous occasions.”
“It has also been the experience of administration that regular appearances by a few individuals tend to dominate the open mic and intimidate others from appearing…,” said Pearce. “Instead, numerous ‘safe’ opportunities for public input…encourages an open, constructive exchange with a broad range of residents and businesses.”
Coun. Scott Anderson, who has long called for more public participation and more transparency from council, supported the staff recommendation opposing open mics, but asked Pearce to clarify ‘safe’ opportunities.
“It’s generally accepted that most members of the public are not comfortable with speaking in a public forum or public session,” said Pearce. “A safer environment for most members of the public is to access one of the many opportunities that Nick (communication officer Nilsen) has provided or many other opportunities by e-mails or calls to yourself…”
Vernon council actually does have a ‘question and answer period’ policy, last amended in 2007, which limits the time period for public questions and answers to 15 minutes at the end of each regular meeting, excluding issues dealing with land purchases, personnel matters and legal dealings.
While the policy has been in place for some time, over many years and various councils, the Q & A period policy was set aside, wrote Pearce, as there was rarely a member of the public who wished to address council outside of normal opportunities.