Tantramar Town Council says no to holding a public question period

Councillor Michael Tower

At its first meeting tonight, Tantramar Town Council voted against amending its agenda to allow members of the public and media to ask questions.

The agenda did not include the public question period that has been a tradition in Sackville for at least 30-years because the new council was operating under a procedural bylaw imposed by the province.

Councillor Michael Tower moved a motion, seconded by Councillor Allison Butcher, calling for a public question period to be added to the agenda.

“I would like to add at the end of the meeting a question period for the public or the press to maintain our transparency,” Tower said.

He suggested that during the recent municipal election campaign, candidates had spoken in favour of openness.

“I think losing this question period takes away transparency,” Tower added.

The motion to amend the agenda to include a public question period required unanimous consent. Councillors Debbie Wiggins-Colwell, Matt Estabrooks and Bruce Phinney voted no.

Mayor Black then explained that the new council was operating under a bylaw imposed by the province.

“I’ve heard that it’s pretty much standard across the province,” he said, adding that the new council can now look at its bylaws “and potentially change them if we need to.”

During an interview later, he said that he personally favours holding a public question period, but that council itself would have to make that decision.

Communications officer

CAO Jennifer Borne told reporters after the council meeting that Tantramar will be reviewing its bylaws.

“If there’s any potential amendments, any feedback that comes in, certainly any information will go into the files for potential amendments going forward and council can review them,” she said.

In an earlier e-mail to Warktimes, Borne wrote that Tantramar welcomes public and media interest in local government.

“Under the new organizational structure, we will have a Corporate Communications position that will be dedicated to providing information to the media and public on decisions of council,” she added.

She later assured reporters that the new communications officer would not replace the council question period, but would create opportunities for public engagement and feedback.

A step backward

Mount Allison Professor Geoff Martin, who specializes in the study of local governments, wrote in an e-mail that “it’s a real step backward not to have a question period, an outrage even.”

Martin, who served on Sackville Town council from 1998 to 2004, adds it gives citizens a chance to question the people they elected.

“This is supposed to be the order of government closest to the people, and the only one that ‘does not rule on behalf of the King,'” he added.

“This is supposed to be a democratic government, not a soulless corporation.”

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9 Responses to Tantramar Town Council says no to holding a public question period

  1. Marika says:

    Why have a question period? We’re in Sackville New Brunswick, where we don’t care what people think. We’ll tell them what they should think.

    In fact, meetings shouldn’t even be open to the public.

    This would eliminate the need for elections, too!

    Sackville, where Council questions You!!

    • Virgil Hammock says:

      We are off to a flying start. So much for election promises. Of course, there should be a public question period at the beginning and end of every council meeting.

      • Mike Gallant says:

        Virgil – as a former Councillor, what are your thoughts on the Mayor delaying the vote to appoint a Deputy Mayor?

      • Tantramarshire says:

        Oh sure… but I still remember when you were town councillor raising some questions about the amount of smartgrowth being built in the centre of town by John Lafford and how your fellow town councillor Margo T. King “shushed” you from speaking… oh Virgil.. those were the days… early 2011 I believe… could have even been late 2010… the culture of shushing only got worse.

  2. Wayne Feindel Puppet of the People says:

    OK folks! A little juvenile
    Council is supposed to be directing the agenda not the provibce or the Mayor. In politics perception ls everything and not having a question period because the province mandated it as a starter bylaw , and besides others are doing it, sounds might mean the $1200 a day carpet bagger Chad Petersons is calling the tunes. But council gets one more chance to communicate to the provincial government that you do not plan to be mere creatures of provincial governments. Does this mean that when the actual budget that is due in March will also be shoved down your throats like your just another advisory committee? The day the finances are tabled you need to demand that the province know that it will be open to the public and not editorialized by the Mayor otherwise be prepared to either resign en mass or spend four years being part of an illusion presented to you as local governance.
    Ummmm the Deputy Mayor???
    In the former Village of Dorchester, the councillor with the highest number of votes is offered the position. Otherwise council elects the Deputy Mayor. The Mayor appoints portfolios but does not appoint a Deputy Mayor; but if he desires an inclusive council, the mayor might suggest council nominate a councillor from the former LSDs .The party has started. You have been elected by us to serve citizens, not bureaucrats. It is unfortunate that you are in one of the top three corrupt states in North America as mentioned at a MtA guess speaker that deals with these matters. I Think it was a Mr. Bowser who lives in Riverview. Tantramar might want to hire him just so my new identity starts with a clean slate. Get your brooms out.

  3. I have read the new bylaw and under presentations it is noted that an individual or group can address council. So there is an opportunity to ask questions.

    IX 4 does note individuals or groups wishing to address council by appearing at the meeting with no previous registration should sign in at the door and will be called in the order they register. They will be given 2 minutes each. It does not say you can not ask questions and it appears that it would ensure that the time is well spent for questions and answers, as opposed to using question periods as soap boxes.

    As for the media asking questions, not sure why continuing on with the informal media scrum that was always happening can not still take place. Maybe a more formally media scrum could be organized by media and members of council could make themselves available after the meetings.

    Again this is not about what the mayor calls a provincially imposed bylaw. It is about doing business differently in order to be more effective in addressing community service needs and concerns. This is a new process and it must be given time to work and councillors and mayor must be supportive in helping it along.
    Proper communication will be needed so residents understand the process and are able to address council in a public meeting.

    1. The Presentations portion of a Council meeting shall provide an opportunity for individuals to appear as a formal delegation or on their own to make brief presentations to Council on matters within the subject matter jurisdiction of Council.
    2. All individuals or groups wishing to address Council and wishing to be listed on the meeting agenda should register with the Clerk at least seven (7) calendar days prior to the date of the meeting, providing their name, topic of concern, and indicating whether there has been any previous contact with a member of Council or Administration regarding the matter. The Clerk will be responsible for preparation of the Council Report Form, if required, for all registered presentations from members of the public. In order to ensure system compatibility and that Members receive all required materials in advance of the meeting, any presentations requiring the use of audio/video technology must be submitted to the Clerk at least three (3) business days prior to the date of the meeting, otherwise they will not be accepted for use at the meeting.
    3. Registered presentations shall be limited to five (5) minutes each, followed by questions from Members if applicable. When individuals wish to appear before Council during a Public Hearing, their presentation shall be limited to five (5) minutes.
    4. Individuals or groups wishing to address Council by appearing at the meeting with no previous registration should sign in at the door and will be called in the order they register. No audio-visual presentations will be permitted for unregistered presentations. Unregistered presentations shall be limited to two (2) minutes each, followed by questions from Members if applicable.

    • Susan says:

      Thanks Shawn. It’s nice to have the facts laid out rather than read sensational articles that mislead the public.

      • Les Hicks says:

        Hi Susan. With respect, can you explain why this article deserves the label ‘sensational’ and exactly how it misleads the public?

    • Les Hicks says:

      Hi Shawn, it is good to hear that you agree that it is important that members of the public are allowed to ask questions of their elected officials.

      Unfortunately, you apparently did not adhere to this principle during the last municipal election campaign when you refused to answer some questions from the public regarding your record during your term as mayor of Sackville.

      During an election campaign, when voters are trying to obtain as much information as possible about candidates so that they can make informed decisions at the voting booth, an incumbent candidate should be willing to answer questions about their record and defend their actions and decisions made while on council, if they can.

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