Councils must field questions

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Hard on the heels of a municipal election campaign where many residents complained they weren’t being heard by their respective councils, Canmore’s made the right call in continuing to embrace a form of public question period.

In the Outlook newsroom, we have little doubt that changes concerning question periods and delegations to council came about, in part, as a result of Hubman Landing residents footing the bill to have lawyers appear before council in relation to a dog park.

The move seemed clearly one of trying to intimidate council in its decision making process in regard to approving one of two new dog parks in town in their neighbourhood.

One wonders about the effect of this kind of pre-emptive move.

On the one hand, clearly the idea that lawyers suggesting litigation would be in the offing should a Hubman dog park go ahead was chosen as a strategy.

On the other hand, who knows how a veteran council would respond to the likelihood of litigation? By caving in on whatever decision was to be made? Or, possibly be angered and dig in its heels at subtle or not so subtle hints of bullying?

We say our municipal councils cannot be hobbled in their decision making by threats of litigation. Otherwise, those with the deepest pockets could receive preferential decisions based on how big a cheque they could write.

The Hubman Landing issue, of course, would not have been the sole source of angst for Canmore’s current council, most of which were re-elected. Over the past term, and in keeping with a council mandate to actually ensure some affordable housing is created in Canmore, often as not, opportunities for public comment turned into events of railing against mayor and council and administration.

However, even if a mayor and council tire of an onslaught of negative public opinion, the public input process must be protected.

So, not only would chopping the public question period at council meetings have reinforced the idea that residents weren’t being heard, it would taken away the opportunity to provide an answer as well.

In the end, it seems, the process Canmore council and its administration have cobbled together is a relatively workable one.

Going back to our hands – on one hand, residents who want to put a particular question to the mayor and council they helped elect are able to, with restrictions.

On the other hand, these questions should now be dealt with in a more direct manner, due to the restrictions. Often, a member of the public appearing before council with a question first offers up a long, circuitous, angry speech before getting to their particular question; that will no longer be the case.

Questions now can be crafted to accurately reflect the residents’ true meaning – without becoming a soapbox stage. And, if the questioner appears in person at the meeting, they may still receive a public answer to what they’ve asked.

It’s certainly not a perfect situation, but it may prove to be workable. No platform will be available, but there is still a process to have one’s question heard.

Whether this process is acceptable to residents remains to be seen.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook