The Town of The Blue Mountains is going to examine potential strategies to correct “misinformation” that may be stated by members of the public during council meetings.
Mayor Alar Soever raised the issue at council’s meeting on July 11. Council was considering a report from staff about revisions to the town’s procedural bylaw to set a new schedule for council meetings. A public meeting on the proposed revisions will be held on August 8.
Soever suggested at the public meeting council also consider a procedure for a formal response to “misinformation” provided by the public verbally or in writing. Soever said, currently, council does not respond directly to public comments made during meetings. He said that can create situations where members of the public provide information that isn’t factual and there is no follow-up from the town.
“The misinformation remains,” he noted. Soever suggested a procedure be developed that allows council and staff to reply to written and verbal comments that contain incorrect information.
Soever referred to a situation in the Township of Clearview in which comments on the municipality’s website led to the township getting embroiled in a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
“We are exposing ourselves to legal liability,” he said. “It’s our responsibility as leaders to correct misstatements of fact when they’re made.”
Members of council were wary of opening the door to an official policy to police comments made by the public.
Deputy Mayor Peter Bordignon suggested the town look at prefacing the public comment period with a statement along the lines of: “public comments are the opinion of the individual.”
Coun. Paula Hope expressed concerns that such a process would risk embarrassing or suppressing members of the public.
“I find that really dangerous. It concerns me,” she said.
Hope said dialogue and commentary from the public is an “essential part of democracy.” She supported Bordignon’s suggestion and said it wouldn’t be a good idea to put staff in a position where they were responsible for correcting public commentary. Hope noted that it is critical that the platform the public comment period provides to residents be protected.
CAO Shawn Everitt said staff could look at some potential strategies to address the concerns raised by the mayor and provide further information in the future. Clerk Corrina Giles suggested the idea could be raised at the public meeting on August 8 and she would do some more research and include information in her follow-up report.
Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca