What a difference a month makes!
On Nov. 19, Lillooet voters elected a new council after an election campaign in which the perceived need for more open and transparent local government was a key issue.
Fast forward to Dec. 19, when council voted to abandon public question period in favour of receiving written questions from the public. To allow for public input, council indicated it would hear up to three delegations per meeting, with a recommended time limit of three minutes per delegation (the previous limit was 10 minutes).
Also, council agreed to hear questions about the ongoing emergency situation in Conwayville from a delegation of neighbourhood residents at a special meeting Dec. 21. But that happened only after those same residents were initially told they would not be permitted to appear as a delegation Dec. 19, even though they met all the requirements and submitted their application prior to the deadline. They should have been allowed to speak first time around. Whether it was miscommunication or a reluctance to hear from the delegation because of potential legal issues, those residents had a right to speak in a public forum and on the public record.
As for the decision to change the rules for question period, there may be benefits to written questions and answers. At least those answers should be more detailed and informative than off-the-cuff replies.
After watching the irresponsible, disrespectful antics of a handful of people who abused the process, we understand the temptation to shut down public question period. The process was used for political grandstanding and ‘gotcha’ moments whose sole purpose was embarrassing council and staff. Even so, we think council should resist that temptation.
By reacting to the actions of a few, council is depriving others with legitimate concerns of the opportunity to ask for explanations, seek clarification and offer constructive comments. The old system was not perfect, but we’re concerned the new system could be cumbersome and time-consuming, restricting the public’s ability to communicate with its elected representatives.
Open and transparent government can be a messy process, but it’s worth the effort.