The Role of the Public in Public Hearings and Public Meetings
Ron Bolin: May 24, 2019
It is ironic that the only Council meeting at which the public is legislatively mandated to be able to give comment is, via the Local Government Act, a Public Hearing. The public is permitted to speak at other Council meetings at Council’s discretion. Yet Public Hearings are the only meetings of Council which are NOT available either live or on video… How does this happen??
On Monday, May 27, 2019 Council will consider how to proceed with video recording and the publishing of Public Hearings. The report prepared by Staff for Council can be found at:https://pub-nanaimo.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=24639
It discusses the role of the public in Public Hearings which are videoed with ramifications for all videoed City meeting records. Read it to see how intricate the role of the public in municipal government can be… I note that there seems to be some question of the legal status of videos of regular Council meetings as they are discretionary, while Public Hearings, because public participation is mandatory, if videoed would be subject to FOIPPA. This issue requires resolution.
I will be interested in your observations on this matter and trust that you will let Council know how you feel about this issue…preferably before or at Monday’s meeting.
I attended the Public Hearing on March 14 at which the matter of a rezoning application for a site-specific amendment to the Community Corridor (COR3) Zone to permit automobile sales, service, and rental use within the subject property at 4900 Island Highway North was heard and Staff had recommended against the rezoning amendment. See 5(b) on the agenda:
This was a matter of some contention and the auditorium was nearly full. I heard each Councillor give their detailed reasoning on this issue and then vote for or against permitting the car dealership against the advice of City Staff. The stated vote when Mayor Krog began his lecture was five against and three for permitting the dealership. I had to leave soon after the Mayor began but did hear him speak forcefully for the dealership and hoping that a Councilor would change their vote. He felt that it was necessary for a new engine to bring out of towners to Nanaimo for the only Porsche dealership on the Island north of Victoria, ignoring the fact that the project proponent was careful to point out that as of that moment they did not have authorization for a Porsche dealership.
I left the meeting knowing that the vote for the rezoning had been lost. Imagine my surprise when, looking for a video of the rest of the meeting the next day, one could not be found. What I found was that despite years of video records of Council meetings, there was no video record of Public Hearings which would allow me to discover the alchemy which had changed at least one Councillors mind, and to determine how this could happen as what I heard before leaving was clearly a voting situation. Was a second vote called for? And if so by what means and by who?? Now I find I am only left with opinions and rumours rather than a record. This situation should be fixed … and soon..
It is a supreme irony that in examining the records I found that while the City’s Procedure Bylaw discusses Public Hearings, the Community Charter does not, and one must go back to the Local Government Act (Sections 464 to 470) to determine the basic rules around a Public Hearing. In point of fact, a Public Hearing is the ONLY meeting at which the public is mandated to be able to speak on an issue before Council. While they may be permitted to speak at other Council meetings it is not a right, but a privilege granted by Council.
A Council which proposes to include the governed in governance should include videos of Public Hearings among the other public Council meetings captured on video… and should approach the Provincial government to make all the Council’s video records into public records… This matter has arisen before regarding the right of the City to redact the videos of Council meetings.