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October 16, 2014

Board Muzzles the Public

by Protect Our Park

Submitted by Rick Williamson

Item #2 of my list:

Surprised girl

This Board has done some pretty inappropriate things in my book. The #1 item on my list was when they withdrew Board support for getting the Cultus Lake Park Act amended to bring a fair, representative and democratic election process to Cultus Lake.  See our Article under News & Media titled Changing the Park Act a big deal or not?’ scroll down to Oct. 5.

The #2 item on my list is when the Board violated it’s own Park Bylaw by indefinitely suspending Public Question Period (QP) thereby denying the public that they are supposed to be serving, the opportunity to ask questions and express their views/opinions to the Board in a public forum.

Before I begin, here is a section from the Park Board’s meeting procedure Bylaw 001-2004 (posted on the Board’s website):

Section 11.5.1 (bolding & underline added by me) The Board shall hold a thirty minute public participation period or until speakers have concluded, whichever comes first  As the Bylaw says shall hold, it means it is not optional – the Board must hold the QP each meeting.

At the June 27, 2012 In-camera Board meeting, Commissioners Hall, Peter, Skonberg & Toews violated the Park Bylaw by voting to suspend QP indefinitely while McCrea, Payeur and Shanks voted against this indefinite suspension. This voting record was revealed to the public months later.

On July 11, 2012, the Board had a chance to correct the above Bylaw violation as a motion was made to “reconsider” the June 27 decision. Commissioners Hall, Peter, Skonberg & Toews voted against reconsidering the earlier decision while McCrea, Payeur and Shanks voted in favour reconsidering the earlier decision. Given the 4 to 3 vote, the decision was not reconsidered.

Many Lakers (including myself) were outraged by this blatant Bylaw violation and filed complaints with the BC Ombudsperson.

Finally, on October 10, 2012, QP was restored – not necessarily because those 4 Commissioners felt that their decision to violate a Park Bylaw and silence the public was inappropriate, but because they were ordered to re-instate QP by the BC Ombudsperson. The Ombudsperson told the Board, yet again, that Bylaws must be enforced as written. The Ombudsperson was acting based on those numerous complaints from Lakers.

Also at the October 10, 2012 meeting, Commissioner Charlotte Hall proposed revisions to the QP section Meeting Procedure Bylaw 001-2004 and these revisions, if approved, would make a mockery of the entire QP. Here the options laid out by Hall (these are laid out in the Agenda Package and must be compared to the existing Bylaw to determine the overall impact that is laid out below):

Option 1

She wants to replace “shall hold” with “may hold”

Only questions concerning agenda matters will be considered

Impact if approved:

  1. QP is optional at the Board discretion so the Board can permanently cancel it at any time, with no justification or explanation.
  2. QP is optional at the Board discretion so the Board can cancel it on a meeting-by-meeting basis, with no justification or explanation.
  3. The public cannot ask questions about non-agenda items
  4. The public cannot make statements, only ask questions

Option 2

She wants to replace “shall hold” with “may hold”

QP is held after the meeting has been adjourned

Impact if approved:

  1. QP is optional at the Board discretion so the Board can permanently cancel it at any time, with no justification or explanation.
  2. QP is optional at the Board discretion so the Board can cancel it on a meeting-by-meeting basis, with no justification or explanation.
  3. As QP would be after adjournment;

(i)The Chair has no power to control the meeting as his power ends when the meeting is over

(ii) Commissioners and Staff are under no obligation to stay and answer questions so they could all leave as the meeting has been adjourned

(iii) There will be no record of questions/comments and answers in the Meeting minutes as QP is not part of the official meeting

Option 3

After either 1 or 2 is approved, Hall then suggests a 3rd option which allows adding questions re agenda, followed by general questions to either Option #1 or #2. I assume these questions would be duly recorded on the minutes, but this is not stated.

Impact if approved:

  1. The public could not make any statements

(Note – previous Board Chairs have insisted on “questions only” and here is what I observed many times: If a Laker made a statement that was critical of the Board or Staff, the Chair would often interrupt and say “What is your question?” However, if the Laker made a statement that complimented the Board or Staff, the Chair would simply say “Thank you.” So statements were OK as long it involved something the Board wanted to hear.)

So at this stage, it is either Option 1 or 2 above, then with or without allowing general questions for a possible 4 outcomes.

Commissioner Charlotte Hall then goes on to propose:

  1. Members of the public are to address their questions to the Chair (this is consistent with the current Bylaw)
  1. Each “question” has a 2 minute time limit (the 2 minute limit is consistent with the current Bylaw, but the current Bylaw says each “address” is limited. In other words, the current Bylaw allows the public to take 2 minutes to make a statement without asking a question, Hall’s proposal is no statements – questions only.)
  1. If any Commissioner considers the conduct of the public to be improper, QP will end immediately. So the member of the public is not ejected, instead QP is shut down completely for the evening (punish everyone for the actions of one). This power to shut down QP is given to ANY Commissioner. I’m sure each Commissioner may have a different definition of what “improper conduct” is. Is this not contrary to basic parliamentary procedure which requires a majority vote before actions can be taken? The biggest problem – there is no definition of what “improper conduct” is. One can hardly be expected to play the game properly if no one tells you EXACTLY what the rules are.
  1. The Board or Staff do not have to answer any questions (so why have a QP if no one has to answer the questions?)

If the reason QP was cancelled is because of alleged improper behaviour – then what do most of Hall’s proposals have to do with that? The answer – nothing! It seems as though this alleged improper behaviour is being used as an excuse to try to limit any kind of public input and any accountability by the Board or Staff.

Fortunately, Hall’s proposals were defeated with Hall, Peter and Skonberg voting in favour of Hall’s recommendations while McCrea, Payeur, Shanks & Toews voted against Hall’s proposals.  I give full credit to Toews for breaking his usual voting pattern and voting in support of the public on this issue.

WATCH FOR THE NEXT POSTING SOON. . . for item #3 on  Rick’s list

“. . . . .  the way the majority of this Board treated the 2 Waterfront Commercial Leaseholders (CL) re the caretaker suite issue.. . . . .”

 

 

 

 

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