News Local

Council tables motion over delegations, looks to hold education session

By Melissa Schilz, Postmedia Network

Petrolia Council is looking to pass a motion that could place some limitations on delegations to council. (File photo)

Petrolia Council is looking to pass a motion that could place some limitations on delegations to council. (File photo)

Petrolia town council is divided over a motion that would change the way the members of the public address council. Councillors were set to vote on the document at Monday’s council meeting, but decided to table it instead.

Coun. Mary-Pat Gleeson said there was background research conducted before creating the lengthy bylaw, and the procedures of other municipalities were examined.

The motion, she said, isn’t designed to discourage members of the public from addressing council, but to ensure the democratic process and rules of order remain intact.

“It assists in moving the business of the town forward in a constructive way,” she said during Monday’s meeting. “The purpose of council meetings is to carry out business of the town… it’s not a stage for grievances and criticism.”

The motion contains several sections outlining rules on how the public can address council. Since it was last brought forward, some amendments have been made to the document to make it more clear.

The proposal asks that members of the public not speak to tender requests, labour relations, legal issues, insurance claims or contract negotiations. It also outlines that the public will be able to speak to business on the agenda, but opportunities to address council will be limited to three unless voted otherwise by council.

Anyone looking to address council on a previously adopted item must make a request by the Wednesday prior to the meeting for placement on the agenda.

Gleeson was part of the council that years ago insisted meetings include two instances when the public can address council. But she said things have changed. In the last several months, council meeting attendance has spiked dramatically in the wake of former CAO Manny Baron’s resignation and the decision to have the YMCA assume operations of the community centre.

In some instances, Mayor John McCharles has had to threaten an early end to meetings after members of the public gallery hurled insults and made inappropriate comments.

“The culture has changed,” Gleeson said. “There’s lack of respect and it means we can’t function 100 per cent.”

Coun. Joel Field said while he was concerned with the original motion, he realized he had misunderstood some of the terms.

“There will be an opportunity for people to put up a hand to speak to something on the agenda,” he said. “It’s not limiting anyone from speaking.”

But some councillors expressed concern over the potential changes. Coun. Ross O’Hara said he can’t support the motion, adding that while there have been some issues, for the most part, the existing system has worked well.

“The people that come to the podium have come with respect. It’s usually hecklers out in the hallway and that’s not going to change this,” he said. “The people that come to the podium are prepared and have a point to make.”

Both councillors Tim Brown and Grant Purdy agreed that moving the motion may not be the best idea, but rather counterproductive.

“We’re in the midst of building trust with the community,” Brown said. “I think to put more restrictions makes it look bad… we’ve got eight and a half months left with this council, I’d like to see it looked at then.”

O’Hara asked if an educational session regarding the motion could be organized for council, with the public and media permitted to attend, so they could go over the changes point by point.

Chief Administrative Officer Rick Charlebois said there are plans to hold a council education session in the next month or two prior to a council meeting.