Public question period replaced by written submissions

Erin council has replaced its public question period with a more formal written process and semi-annual mayor’s forums after the process was suspended March 1.

At the April 5 council meeting, councillors voted unanimously to go forward with a revamped process and do away with the public question period.

The new process includes an option for the public to write a letter to council, which would be reviewed and included in the correspondence section of the agenda, where it could be debated and answered by council.

In addition, Mayor Allan Alls will host semi-annual open house forums for the public to raise issues. Those issues and questions will be recorded and presented to council as an agenda item for be debate and discussion.

Councillor John Brennan asked if all of council could be involved in those forums, but CAO Kathryn Ironmonger said the issues could be presented to council at the next meeting.

Councillor Matt Sammut, who wanted council to have the option to debate and discuss, said, “(The public) want to hear the voice of council and the mayor and the direction that we are taking this town and how we’re spending our money.”

At the March 22 council meeting, council received a report from clerk Dina Lundy about options on how to move the process forward.

“It’s really a council decision,” said Lundy.

After a lengthy discussion, council decided Alls and Sammut would meet and come up with changes to the procedure. The decision on April 5 was a result of that meeting.

Sammut said during the discussion that whatever the decision, he wanted some sort of connection to the community.

“We are in tough seats, we’re in a town that is in transition … we’ve got a town that’s going through some real growing pains and we’re going to have tough questions thrown at us and I think we can’t hide from them,” he said.

Councillor Jeff Duncan said he is in favour of revamping the procedure.

“One of the difficulties with the public question period, the way that we [had] it was that, it allowed for a simple question for the public to come forward, but something else that was more complicated… it wasn’t dealt with appropriately,” he said.

Duncan added he felt muted during the previous question period process.

“I basically had to sit on the fence and be mute about whatever the issue was. It kind of almost circumvented council’s role in dealing with matters,” he said.

Sammut agreed, saying he felt muted at times.

He said to Alls, “I totally understand that you are the chair, you are the mayor of this town … but there are five voices, and we have to not forget there are five voices at times that will differ.”

While Alls agreed, he said, “We do not want council debating with the public – that is wrong.”

Councillor Rob Smith suggested having forums in every corner of the town, such as Orton and Ballinafad.

“To see the same people here all the time, to me that doesn’t represent a cross section of the town that I live in, because to be quite honest with you, I don’t run into a lot of you people in the town that I live in,” he said addressing the attendees.

Alls originally suggested to have the questions vetted by staff before being presented to council. However, Ironmonger thought it would tie up too much staff time.