Citizens about to get silenced at Nanaimo Council meetings

On April 16, 2014, Nanaimo Council held a Special Governance meeting to discuss  the Draft Procedure Bylaw which would limit citizens’ input at Nanaimo Council meetings.

How will public participation be affected? The following are proposed changes to the Nanaimo Council meeting format:

  • Citizens would have to make their comments on agenda items only, at the beginning of Council meetings.
  • Speakers would be allowed up to two minutes each, for a total time of 10 minutes.
  •  Public delegations would be limited to five minutes, unless Council, by a majority vote, agrees to hear additional delegations.
  • Questions at the end of the meeting would be reserved for media only up to two minutes per person, for a total time of ten minutes.

City staff would choose who speaks
“The number of public delegations shall be limited to four (4) at each meeting.  The Corporate Officer shall be granted the authority to screen delegation requests and, if deemed appropriate, the Corporate Officer can refuse to place a delegation on the agenda.

“If a delegation has no new information and requests to speak, the Corporate Officer is granted the authority to not place the speaker on the agenda.”

Will this make Council meetings more efficient? The old Bylaw 7144.02. 18.7 read: There shall be no limit to the number of delegations for items that have been included on the agenda.

Cost to taxpayers:
The City has paid a consulting firm $75,000 to review and develop this governance policy.  In addition, the following expenses have been approved:

  • Changing the seating layout in the Shaw Auditorium at a cost of approximately $8,000.
  • Consultant Eli Mina to proceed with In-Camera Meetings and Agenda Review recommendations 25, 26, 27 at a cost of $2,250 to $2,625.
  • Consultant Allison Habkirk (Gerry Berry connection) to proceed with Council Roles, Responsibilities and Relationships recommendations 1, 10, 2, 3 and 11 at a cost of up to $8,500.
  • Consultant Eli Mina to ‘enhance’ the Council Procedure Bylaw and other ‘enhancements’ at a cost of up to $9,000.

Nanaimo residents are paying the City Manager over $200,000 a year in addition to the other six figure staffers. The City is spending vast amounts on consultants to do their work.

Shutting up the people
The video below is from Nanaimo Info Blogger who captured a segment of this important governance meeting.  If you listen closely you will hear the following:

City Manager, Mr. Swabey: “There is a big push for representative democracy and I really think that’s not the way to go; you’re elected to make decisions. The crowd is there to witness how democracy works not to be part of it. Whether you address them, that’s wrong or they shout things, that’s wrong; that’s why question period is off..”

People who want to speak at Council meetings, no matter how many, need to be heard.  If it is up to Council and staff to control who can speak then the speakers can be stacked full of ‘supporters’ who parrot one point of view.

Fishy Business

Appearing at several council meetings is a man who sits in the public gallery behind  the  podium waving various signs for the entire meeting. The signs read: ‘arts = welfare’; ‘incinerator = jobs’; ‘Mayor Spend-A-Lot’ as well other signs regarding taxes, council, unemployed etc.  It is very distracting.

SIGNman Citizens about to get silenced at Nanaimo Council meetings
Nanaimo council sign heckler

The strange part of this is that no one has asked this man to move away from the podium area.

In the past, Mayor and Council have all been very vocal in calling the public to order and instructing them to follow proper protocol.  So why have they purposely ignored what this person is doing?

On Monday night, while the  heckler was waving his signs behind an emotional homeowner who was speaking at the podium, Councillor Bestwick asked the homeowner to remember to respect Council.  Meanwhile, no one addressed the heckler’s behaviour.

Why is the Mayor, Council and City condoning this sign heckler’s behaviour? Could this be part of a larger plan to destroy public participation at future Nanaimo Council meetings? Was he provided the signs to hold? Many of the signs appear to be the handwriting of different people.

Nanaimo citizens should not be silenced.  People have worked hard to keep the meetings at a public location, despite the wishes of City Hall. At the new $16 million annex building, where council meetings would otherwise be held, there is no audio/visual hooked up.

Let us keep council meetings open to everyone and not subject to the mercurial whims of a Corporate Officer. Email and tell them you care about democracy in Nanaimo.