Yesterday Council voted to amend the process for how we run Public Meetings that are on planning and development issues such as rezonings. I opposed the change and wanted to explain my rationale. Although it is a small change, I think it is an important one.
Under section 5.5 of the Development Regs, public meetings must be chaired by a member of Council. Yesterday, a last-minute addition to the agenda voted to change the rules. Meetings will continue to be chaired by council until such a time as the provincial amendments take effect. In the future the applicant will pay for an independent facilitator to conduct the meeting.
I think chairing public meetings on planning issues is part of the job as Councillor. Attending meetings and interacting privately with residents aren’t quite the same thing as chairing. Here’s why.
First of all, this change also adds a cost to the developer, who will be required to pay for the independent facilitator’s fees. Right now Councillors do not get paid to chair public meetings. I don’t think we should ask developers to pay other people to do something that, historically, has been our job.
I also think there’s a value in having Councillors chair meetings. Public meetings can be livening, they can be full of rousing debate, they can involve colourful rhetoric. People want to get together, in the spirit of curiosity, to be united, to be part of a cause that is important to them. A facilitator can easily outline people’s arguments or concerns, but as a chair you really get a unique sense of people’s emotional investment.
Experiencing that is valuable for me, and I think it’s reasonable for people who represent the public to sit at the front of a room full of engaged people now and then and host a debate about City planning. It’s a healthy part of democratic decision-making.
I feel that it is important that the final decision makers (Council) hears the public unfiltered. Having meetings mediated through an independent facilitator lessens the direct connection to elected officials by adding an additional layer to the conversation. If I were upset about a policy change I’d want to talk to the final decision-maker too.
I think Councillors all aim to lead a balanced discussion. A responsible chair doesn’t use their position as chair as an opportunity to influence one aspect of the discussion to the exclusion of others, or to dominate the meeting. There’s no advantage in running a meeting poorly. I think my colleagues have been doing a great job engaging in the public and I have enjoyed learning about how the community interacts with City Hall more generally.
I take issue with the timing of this vote, given that not all Councillors have even had the opportunity to chair a public meeting. And some have chaired public meetings where there hasn’t been anyone in attendance. Not all issues bring out a crowd.
All that being said, I will look for positive ways to work within the new system and hope it is a positive experience for proponents of zoning changes, for residents, and for Councillors. Now that the change has been voted on, the second public meeting for 22 St. Joseph’s Lane is scheduled to take place this September in the Foran-Green Room and will be chaired by an independent facilitator, TBA. It will be more important than ever to make sure we as Councillors get out to the evening meetings, as it is not guaranteed that a Councillor is assigned as a chair to attend.
A couple of further notes: I look forward to more public discussions on the Municipal Plan and Development Regulations when they come before Council, which is slated to be by the end of the summer or in early Fall of this year. Residents can expect public meetings on heritage, too, in coming months as we work through heritage policy recommendations to coincide with development regulations. And in case you’re wondering what Council does in the summer—our schedule looks like this for July and August:
Special and Regular Council Meetings will be held on:
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Monday, July 23, 2018
Monday, August 6, 2018
Monday, August 20, 2018
Committee of the Whole will be held on the Wednesday following each of the dates above:
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Edited to say the date for the public meeting on 22 St. Joseph’s Lane will take place at a date later this summer TBD
Further edited to say the date for the public meeting on 22 St. Joseph’s Lane will take place on a date in September TBA