Salvation Army spokesman Tim Bohr at city hall in March 2017. City reps are considering a change to question period rules. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress file)

Council looks at changing how it handles question period

North Van model might get trial run in Chilliwack, where the public gets three minutes on any topic

Chilliwack is changing the way it handles questions from the public at council meetings.

The current practice allows a maximum of two delegations per meeting to appear before council to speak for 10 minutes. Questions from the public can be asked at end of a council meeting, but only if they relate specifically to matters on the agenda.

But after staff took a look at the policies of neighbouring cities, with practices ranging from no questions at meetings, to devoting a half hour to question period, the recommendation was for council to stick with the status quo. The rationale, for keeping it to two delegations and questions at the end, was mainly that there were numerous other ways to contact city officials with questions, from community engagement meetings, to email, and more.

Coun. Sam Waddington, chair of the former Rural Issues Adisory committee, suggested that Chilliwack adopt something similar to the District of North Vancouver, with a 30-minute public input period and each speaker getting three minutes.

“I think it matters that we do it in public,” he said about council answering the tough questions from residents who attend council meetings.

Coun. Jason Lum asked if there was any latitude for accepting “items that aren’t on the agenda” or that may be considered “out of order” since sometimes a citizen will stay in chambers all night waiting to ask something, and maybe they could allow it, or a case by case basis, with a majority vote of council.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz pointed to the many opportunities already available for community engagement as underlined in the staff report. She said sometimes there isn’t a staff member present to help council answer the most technical questions.

“It’s not the aim of council to cut out discussion, but people are served more efficiently if we have time to prepare.”

Gaetz said a question period could be hijacked if it were seen as a way “for people to get in front of council to put out their platform,” particularly when in the midst of an election campaign.

Coun. Chris Kloot noted that the community engagement meetings are “not always well attended” and although he wasn’t opposed to a question period, he was hesitant to add time for questions, given that some meeting run long into the night.

Mayor Gaetz suggested if council was leaning toward making a change around question period, “I think we should do it after the election.”

Coun. Sue Attrill said she was of two minds, but she liked the idea of a set question period, which “might help more people attend” council meetings.

“I love the engagement idea. I love that part of it,” she said.

Coun. Waddington told council that he appreciated the discussion that was taking place.

If a member of the public sits through an entire council meeting waiting for the question period that takes 15 minutes at the end of the night, “I think we need to make time for it.”

Coun. Waddington urged council to try the North Van model on a “trial” basis.

“But moving forward, we need to have that piece,” he said.

Coun. Chuck Stam said he was comfortable with the current system of engagement with the delegations, and agenda-related questions at the end.

In the end, council referred the item back to staff, with the goal of bringing back an amendment to the Procedural Bylaw, following the North Van model of a public question period, for a six-month trial period. The amendment made it so that the changes would not take effect until after the election.

On the referral motion and amendment, Coun. Kloot and Coun. Stam voted against, while and Mayor Gaetz, Coun. Attrill, Coun. Lum, Coun. Popove and Coun. Waddington in favour.

READ MORE: When Cultus Lake shut down questions


@CHWKjourno
jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chilliwack baby is the pancake poster child for provincewide fundraiser

Face of one-year-old patient Sauyer Bell is who IHOP chose for its BC Children’s Hospital fundraiser

Residential Tenancy Branch won’t allow B.C. landlord to evict tenant even though he’s in jail

Landlord baffled at arbitrator decision based on notice of hearing not being served properly

From the Chilliwack Progress Archives: Central public school principal paints a bleak picture

In 1925, the principal of a Chilliwack school had strong words for a class of Grade 8 students

Fraser Valley couple wins $500K after finding scratch-and-win while moving

  • Robert Walters and Lois Gueret of Agassiz win half a million from Scratch & Win ticket

Stolen truck recovered by RCMP after it was used to commit crimes

Older red Chevy S10 was linked to thefts last weekend from rural and industrial areas of Chilliwack

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

Private clinics would harm ‘ordinary’ people using public system in B.C.: lawyer

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in 2018 that the government would begin to fine doctors $10,000

B.C. terminates contract with hospice society refusing assisted death

Delta Hospice Society loses hospital service fund of $1.5 million

Child in hospital following fatal crash that killed father, sibling on B.C. highway

The single vehicle crash occured near Kamloops on Highway 5A

‘Die!’: Vernon councillor mailed death threat

This story contains information that might be sensitive to some readers

Hidden message connects Castlegar homeowners decades apart

The Rodgers family was surprised when a message fell out of the walls as they were renovating

Two B.C. men plead guilty to bus-terminal assault of man with autism in Ontario

Parmvir Chahil and Jaspaul Uppal due to be sentenced in June for aggravated assault

B.C. Liberals call for assistance on soaring strata insurance rates

NDP’s Carole James says problem is across the country

Most Read