Residents complaining about Town staff and sharing opinions during town council’s question period has councillors considering changes to the format.
Last week, Black Diamond Town councillors suggested a review of the procedure section of the Town’s bylaw for question period in its regular meetings. It wants to establish a process to ensure residents understand the correct procedure to address council.
“Everyone needs to understand that we need to treat each other with respect and consideration,” said Mayor Ruth Goodwin. “My concern with how (the bylaw) stands, it isn’t identifying guidelines for communication. When we’re engaged with the public we go by a code of conduct and I would like it related back.”
Goodwin said some residents have been making inappropriate comments about staff during question period.
“I have found at times they can be a little more emotional than they need to be,” she said. “Personnel issues, we don’t entertain that at this table.”
Goodwin has had to remind those sharing their opinions that they need to ask a question.
Coun. Ted Bain said it’s not a good use of council’s question period.
“It’s not opinion period it’s question period and whoever is in charge of the meeting will have to say, ‘Excuse me, but is there a question in there,’” he said. “Some people won’t like it, but it is a question period.”
Bain said he observed some instances with previous council where a question was asked and the resident was told it would be addressed later in the meeting, but it wasn’t.
“The discussion was had but the questions that were specifically asked weren’t answered,” he said. “That’s something we should consider.”
Goodwin said when someone asks a question about an agenda item, she records the question and addresses it when the issue comes up on the agenda.
“It’s making sure that we as council members get that question answered during the actual scope of the business meeting,” she said.
Coun. Sharon Hart asked council if it should consider changing its bylaw to have residents submit questions in writing before the meeting, a process that is in place in Turner Valley.
Goodwin expressed concern that it might deter some residents from asking questions.
“From the perspective of a resident, if I was coming in to ask a question and knew I had to hand it in 24 to 48 hours before a meeting, sometimes a question doesn’t come until moments before a council meeting, that means waiting another two weeks for the question and they may not come back to that really important question,” she said.
Goodwin said she doesn’t want to deter anyone from asking questions.
“I do very much appreciate the efforts of those that are continuing to come,” she said. “When you live in any municipality there is always gossip and rumours and it’s a good opportunity to come to council and ask what’s true and what’s not true.”
A change that might help streamline question period, said Goodwin, is reducing the maximum time from five minutes and allow one question per person to ensure everyone has an opportunity and then invite residents to ask a second or third question if time permits.
“At our last council meeting one individual had three questions and the other two had one,” she said. “How do you go through a process where everyone gets to ask a question? It’s just making it fair.”
To help residents better understand the rules and procedures around question period, Coun. Jackie Stickel suggested listing them and making them available to residents at regular council meetings.
“If someone wants to ask a question, there is a piece of paper while we’re getting ready that says that’s how you ask a question,” she said. “I think we should keep it as simple as we can.”
Council asked administration to bring ideas of how to present this information to the public to council before the end of March.