A procedural bylaw will give Summerlanders more opportunities to comment at municipal council meetings.
The bylaw, which was given first three readings on Monday evening, adds a 15-minute spot for public comments early in the meeting, as well as a public question period just before adjournment.
At present, the time allotted for public comments is at the end of the meeting, following adjournment.
“Under the current bylaw, the public is not afforded an opportunity at the regular and special council meetings to comment on items appearing on the evening’s agenda,” Mayor Peter Waterman said.
“In my opinion, council should seek public comment at the beginning of the meeting, not after they make a decision.”
Waterman said the public has wanted additional opportunities to speak to council, before decisions are made.
“We’re trying to be more accessible,” he said. “The public wanted more availability and a chance to say things.”
Under the new bylaw, the first opportunity for public comment comes following delegations and before the mayor’s report.
Comments must pertain to items on the agenda, but not on items which have statutory requirements for public input. Zoning and Official Community Plan amendments, development variance permits and temporary use permits all require public hearings or public comment opportunities.
“This affords the public the opportunity to comment on other things that will come up at council,” Waterman said.
The question period at the end of the meeting will be on any matter of local government interest and is not restricted to items on the evening’s council agenda.
In addition to the change in the meeting structure, the bylaw also makes an adjustment to the Committee of the Whole meeting.
In the past, the Committee of the Whole meeting is held on the second and fourth Mondays of the month, in the morning. Items for the evening’s meeting have been reviewed and discussed at these meetings.
“I would like to shift the focus of the Committee of the Whole to new council business requiring a full and open public discussion,” Waterman said.
Coun. Erin Trainer said members of council often ask questions of staff in the morning meeting. The answers, if given at the public evening meeting, would benefit the community as well.
Coun. Janet Peake said council proceedings will become more transparent with the removal of the regular Committee of the Whole meetings.
Coun. Doug Holmes was the sole member of council to vote against the bylaw.
He said the Monday morning Committee of the Whole meetings provide an opportunity for some in the community to attend council proceedings.
In addition, he said the morning meetings allow council members more time to discuss the issues on the evening agenda.