Members of the public are back officially asking questions at Cultus Lake Park Board meetings.
In a squeaker vote of 4-3, the Park Board voted Wednesday to restore public question period to the way it was.
The existing rules under the procedure bylaw will go back in effect at the park board, said Chair Bob McCrea, after the meeting.
“The decision brings back the question period we temporarily suspended in late June.”
It was such a controversial decision that some lakers told The Progress they lodged complaints about it with the B.C. Ombudsperson’s office.
“I’m personally pleased with the results,” said the chair. “It means question period is back, and it’s here to stay.”
A prepared statement was read out by Commissioner Charlotte Hall before the Oct. 10 vote, explaining reasons for wanting question period reinstated, but under a question-only protocol, no commentary from the public, and held at the board’s discretion.
Her suggestions would have given the park board more control over the way the public could provide input, citing disrespect shown to the board and staff in the past.
The ideas included changing the wording from “shall” hold question period during board meetings, to “may,” and giving the park board the option of shutting down question period, if behaviour is deemed “improper” during a session.
As a result of the vote, a question period was held at the end of the evening meeting, according to McCrea.
Leaseholder Rick Williamson asked: “Who gave the Board the advice that it was OK to break your own laws and what was this advice based on?”
Board chair McCrea replied: “(CAO) Ron Campbell gave the advice.”
Campbell is quoted by Williamson in his emailed newsletter as saying: “I got a verbal legal opinion that if the Board feels it is in the best interests of the Board or the community, then they can suspend question period.”
The legal opinion was offered by the firm of McMurdy and McCallister.
One laker thanked the commissioners for effectively voting for free speech, and by voting to return to having a question period at board meetings.
The vote to reconsider the board’s June 27 decision to eliminate question period passed unanimously.
The proposals to further restrict it were shot down by a majority vote of the board, by commissioners Bob McCrea, Carleton Toews, Malcolm Shanks and Larry Payeur. Commissioners Hall, Owen Skonberg and Sacha Peter voted for the more restricted mode of public input.
Some said they weren’t interested in hearing critical comments.
But Commissioner Larry Payeur stated that “people are entitled” to hold opinions that are different from the board’s.
“People deserve to have an open and accountable board and question period is one way to do this,” he was quoted saying. “Disrespect has been on both sides.”