–Gail Hall, Delegation to Sooke Council, Monday June 13, 2016
I ask members of Council to consider holding public forums or some similar gathering on a regular basis, perhaps one per month, or more often, depending on the number of issues of concern.
All the promises from the election regarding inclusiveness, transparency, and the like, have long since disappeared. Virtually every word spoken by a member of the public in this room is governed by a dictate from Council or staff.
We need to be able to gather from time-to-time, in a less formal atmosphere, and have the opportunity to ask questions that have no other venue. For example:
- Was it staff or council who decided that agenda packages would no longer be available to the public unless each printed page was paid for?
- Has an application been sent to the ALC for removal of the property on Sooke River Road?
- How many statutes were violated in the building of the Bike trail?
- Has the $765,000 owing to the Park Reserve Fund been paid back?
- And so many more
Tonight’s Agenda is a perfect example of excluding members of the public regarding land use issues. The bylaws appear on the agenda tonight for 1st and 2nd Readings, and the scheduling of public hearings. There will be no opportunity for members of the public to ask questions, make comments, or have their concerns considered, until the Public Hearing.
Public Hearings are a waste of time. We can speak, we can ask questions, and we can look at maps on the wall. We cannot however, have our questions answered. We can also be assured that decisions have already been made, either in one of the MANY in-camera meetings, or elsewhere.
The OCP points out the necessity for either the developer or the Council to hold information meetings regarding Land Use issues. It is an ignored requirement.
Some time ago we were informed by Councillor Kerrie Reay that a review of our Zoning Bylaw was underway, necessary because there had been no updates since 1999. We have had two or three updates in the last 4 years, as Councillor Reay sat at the table! Also there is to be an update of the Official Community Plan, with no committee or public involvement. I have no doubt that these matters will not be carried out in a public forum.
The removal of the Land Use and Environment Committee, the failure to appoint an Advisory Planning Commission, the endless In-Camera Meetings all point to governance by a Council which simply has no use for public input.
The Council members, whose duty it is to represent the taxpayers, have an opportunity and a duty, to take a leadership role. A move to provide a forum for public consultation would be a strong statement of leadership, and a means to tell us that in fact Council is in charge. Many people, including me, see a council which has turned our community over to a CAO and her Corporate Officer, who have yet to win the support of many of us.
For me it is a feeling that the town I love, has become a toy, a place where strangers with little or no experience, play keep away with all the pieces, make up new rules, and behind closed doors change the characteristics that make our town special, all accomplished with the blessing of Council.
Sooke is not a toy to be bounced around by any one group. We have a rich and varied history and every new member of Staff, and every elected official needs to remember that they have a duty to the residents to respect the wishes of the public with every action they take.
If I send an email to Mayor Tate, to CAO Sullivan, to certain members of staff, my response comes from the Corporate Officer. I am told by that same Corporate Officer — that should be Acting Corporate Officer — that all such emails must be vetted though his office. Why? Was this policy set by Council by resolution?
I end with a quote from our current CAO speaking to the public as a candidate for council in Colwood: “Your voice matters and should be heard regularly and often. I support public forums to gauge public opinion on major expenditures and other important issues.”
After Ms. Hall’s Delegation, Coun. Brenda Parkinson opened the conversation with a motion, stating, “I would like to move that Council hold a Town Hall meeting as stated in our Strategic Plan to enhance our communications with our residence and for community engagement.”
Coun. Ebony Logins seconded the motion.
During the discussion period, Mayor Maja Tait noted that the timing of such an event was difficult to schedule before October. She noted that according to their existing Strategic Plan, under the Governance section, Council should be holding two public forums on an annual basis, and that that has not been done. Staff changes and her four-month absence contributed to that miss.
Coun. Bev Berger noted that at the next Council meeting, the Annual Report would be on the agenda for approval, and that residents could come and speak to anything in that Report at that June 27 meeting.
“What I heard from the public was something not as formal,” noted the mayor. The Annual Report would be presented in Chamber, and having a Town Hall at the Community Hall would be less formal. Mayor Tait suggested a variety of display boards and presentations from some of the departments.
“Similar to the Rotary Fair,” said Coun. Berger.
Coun. Kevin Pearson supported more informal communications. “I’d like to see some form of informal communication where there’s more dialogue back and forth.” He said, adding, “I’ll support any kind of method of communication whether it’s a Town Hall or whether it’s a Land Use Committee or not. I like at least that dialogue.”
Coun. Rick Kasper observed that this was the kind of information that should be included in the Strategic Plan.
“Maybe the District should have a News Room, that’s right on their website,” began Coun. Kasper, “so that it’s updated so that anybody can get access to any relevant information on an ongoing daily basis so that whoever wants to link with that information, they can feed it out to whoever they want come hither dither, doesn’t matter. But, we’re not being proactive enough. I’m the first one to agree to that. But you know I think there’s a way to do it where it is actually beneficial to the community at large, not just a select few people in the community, but all the people who we represent.”
“There are some questions that will never be answered to anybody’s satisfaction,” he continued, “I’ll guarantee you that, guarantee you that. You’ll never be able to satisfy everybody in this town, no matter what answer you give them. So, a Town Hall meeting for a purpose to address a whole pile of issues and to get answers may not really accomplish that means. It just, it just might not. So, you know let’s not kid ourselves here. Because some people have different expectations of how this community should be run. We’re elected. We’ve a responsibility. Our staff have a responsibility. We’re all doing the best job we can. And they all believe that. We all believe that here. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be sitting here. I’ll tell you that right now. So, you know, we’re doing the best and this one of the many options … which I’ll support. But I think we have to put it all in context here.”
Tait added that a dialogue from a Town Hall might lead to other ideas, it was about trying different things. Even the notion of a Town Hall on Twitter was tossed around, with Coun. Logins offering up her skills set should Council want to explore that option.
The motion was carried.
Video of Gail Hall’s Delegation
- District of Sooke’s Strategic Plan, on page 8 reads: “Continue public information meetings twice per year.”
- District of Sooke’s online District News
Other recent Delegations
- Sooke resident raises many questions wants dialogue, transparency, answers
- Sooke Council passes motion in spite of “strong” staff recommendation
- Sooke Youth initiate Sooke Harbour Festival, starting this summer