Bayham councillors voted 4-1 on Thursday, Jan. 6, to including a 10-minute open session where members of the public could speak during online meetings in future.
The subject came up as part of proposed updates to council’s procedural bylaw presented by Administrator Thomas Thayer, who suggested the public forum as a way to increase transparency to the public during COVID online sessions.
He recommended that speakers would have to register before the meeting and be allowed two minutes each to have their stay.
Councillors, however, wouldn’t be able to respond directly to speakers, and the subjects that could be discussed would be restricted to certain subjects.
Mayor Ed Ketchabaw said council meetings were open to the public, but were not “public meetings.”
Although individual councillors could make comments during meetings, council as a whole could only speak through motions and bylaws that were passed, he continued. He encouraged the public to contact councillors or staff at any time.
“I think I know what they are looking for and this won’t satisfy it,” he added.
Councillor Valerie Donnell agreed with the concept of the forum, but wanted it tested on a trial basis.
Cr. Susan Chilcott agreed, saying if it wasn’t working, the format could be revisited in three or six months.
Deputy Mayor Rainey Weisler said she had no issue with the trial runs, adding the public had direct access to councillors prior to council meetings before.
“This allows them this avenue with the hybrid (online) meetings,” she said.
Cr. Dan Froese was not as enthusiastic, saying other councils had found such a forum didn’t work, and “There are so many avenues for people to voice their comments.”
Mayor Ketchabaw repeated that the forum wouldn’t satisfy what residents were looking for and they could reach out to councillors at any time outside council meetings.
Cr. Donnell put forward a motion to try the open forum for six months, which Deputy Mayor Weisler seconded.
Cr. Froese said with this being an election year, council should wait and let the new council make this change.
He is the only vote against a trial run for the forum, with Mayor Ketchabaw, Deputy Mayor Weisler and councillors Chilcott and Donnell voting to implement it.
Jeff Helsdon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express