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Keeping voices heard

oe-council-agenda_bradfordIn two short weeks, the seats at regional council will once again be filled. The summer break done, councillors will be back to work at regional headquarters.

However, this first meeting is not the typical standing committee meetings that for years have taken place ahead of the main regional council meeting. Instead of meeting in smaller groups to discuss issues related to specific subjects, councillors will now be meeting as a committee of the whole – a committee consisting of all councillors, but without the final-decision-making measures of regional council.

The change is part of a pilot project that will last until the end of the year, and was initiated to reduce the amount of meetings required by councillors and staff.

A change that will be coming with this new system is how councillors deal with delegations from the public – citizens coming to councillors to explain their gripes with what the region is doing and what could be done better. Under the past system, delegates could come to committee and delegate on whatever subject they chose. However, unless that matter popped up on an agenda in the six months following, they were unable to do so again until that half-year time was up. This was done to avoid having people come and wax poetic on the same issues over and over again.

However, under the new system, delegates could face a different problem. With the new council information packages being distributed on a weekly basis, councillors now have the option to pick and choose the information reports that appear on the agenda. Designed to cut down on the size of agendas as well as the length of meetings, this change has the potential effect of cutting down on public delegates. What if a member of the public wants to talk to councillors about a specific matter for which there is a report in the council information package, but it never makes it to the agenda? This means that someone who has already spoken on the subject would be required to wait until the six-month period is up in order to address councillors again.

On the other hand, those who want to address an issue and are within that six-month period will have to possess some political savvy to ensure they make their way onto the agenda in time.

Could contentious matters be kept off agendas to avoid dissent? Could issues that are of concern to the public fall off the radar because it never makes it to council chambers? This new system will make it harder for members of the public, who have the right to voice their opinions directly to councillors.

Speaking with The Oshawa Express, Matt Gaskell, the region’s commissioner of corporate services, says there will be proposed changes coming to council’s procedural bylaws next month in light of the pilot project. One can only hope the changes will make things easier, not harder, for public delegations.