Both candidates in the running to become Sackville’s next mayor on May 10 have expressed concern about the flow of municipal information now that that the town no longer has a weekly newspaper.
On his mayoralty campaign Facebook page, Ron Aiken writes that town staff do a good job of communicating through the town’s website, but he calls the permanent closing of the Sackville Tribune-Post “very sad news” since the paper used to devote a weekly section to town news.
“This eliminates a major source of communication for those (especially seniors) that may not have ready access to electronic media,” Aiken writes.
“If anyone has any suggestions how our communications could reach a wider audience, I’d love to hear them.”
In a news release, mayoralty candidate Shawn Mesheau proposes to supplement the town’s website and e-mail communications with a printed newsletter that could be mailed to citizens who request it.
Mesheau says copies of the newsletter — issued three or four times a year — could also be available in local coffee shops and businesses.
“It could be an enhanced version of what’s currently going out electronically,” he says.
“It could include recapping the public meetings and events; rezoning applications that might have happened over the last quarter [and] provide details on upcoming meetings and events.”
Both Mesheau and Aiken advocate giving the public or media limited access to background documents that are up for discussion at town council’s first monthly meeting usually held on the first Monday.
Councillors receive the documents the preceding week, but neither mayoralty candidate favours releasing them then.
The documents include recommendations from town managers on such matters as town-supported events, proposed bylaw changes and the awarding of tenders for equipment purchases and road repairs.
To see an example of a council background document, click here.
Ron Aiken suggests providing the background documents to reporters as long as they agree not to release them until they are presented to council.
“These documents represent the work product of staff for Council and I think it only fair/reasonable that the first public presentation of this work is from the people that did it,” Aiken wrote on Facebook.
Shawn Mesheau suggests making the documents public at noon on the day of the council meeting to give people a few hours to look them over.
But he emphasizes that since the documents and proposals are drafts that are not final until council approves them, they should not be made public before members of council have had several days to digest them.
Mesheau says that releasing documents too far in advance can cause problems.
“As some information gets out into the public, and we know how social media can work sometimes, it can be misinterpreted,” he says, “and when it’s misinterpreted then information can flow out there that creates some things that aren’t really necessarily what’s transpiring.”
Town Hall meetings
Meantime, both mayoralty candidates are proposing regular town hall meetings where citizens can talk with members of council and staff.
Mesheau says quarterly, informal meetings would give people a chance to ask questions.
“I find sometimes a formal environment impedes somebody’s comfort level to come and step up and ask a question,” he adds.
“I think a lot of times if we get into that more one-on-one opportunity and the opportunity for council to hear from people in that environment, it’s more relaxed and people might feel more comfortable coming in and getting involved.”
For his part, Aiken proposes to consult people with expertise such as gardeners and arborists in tree planting or flower-bed planning projects.
“For less specific issues, I would have a regularly scheduled town hall kind of meeting (maybe 3 times each year) to gain input from people on whatever the issues of the day might be,” he writes.