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Banff council axes public question period at end of meetings

BANFF – Town council has scrapped one of two opportunities for Banff residents to have their voices heard during council meetings.
According to Banff’s recently released 2018 community social assessment, lower wages and higher housing costs are the reasons this is considered the tourist town’s most significant social challenge.

BANFF – Town council has scrapped one of two opportunities for Banff residents to have their voices heard during council meetings.

Residents can still comment on agenda items during a public input session at the beginning of a council meeting, but at a meeting Monday (Oct. 22), Councillor Peter Poole argued to retain the long-standing second opportunity at the end of a meeting.

He had the support of Coun. Brian Standish, but with three councillors absent, a 2-2 vote meant he failed in his attempt to keep this in council’s procedural bylaw, which provides the framework for council to use in its decision-making process.

“I think getting good information improves our decisions and I want to keep incentives for the public to participate at council meetings,” said Poole.

“It’s part of our bargain with the community. It’s an opportunity for input in a democratic way and I just don’t want to erode that.”

Mayor Karen Sorensen said she appreciates Poole’s and Standish’s positions, but noted it’s not common practice for municipalities in Alberta to have two times for public input on agenda items.

She said she believes there is ample opportunity for Banffites to give feedback on issues, including public hearings and delegations.

“By no means do I feel that we are restricting an opportunity in any way, shape or form for the public to communicate with council,” she said.

“If there’s something on the agenda of the day they have an opportunity at the beginning of the meeting, and nobody is suggesting we remove that.”

Coun. Standish said he believes the right for the public to make a presentation to council cannot be understated.

“It’s very important to me to be transparent, and basically it’s a value we should all respect,” he said.

For Coun. Corrie DiManno, the public can have their voices heard in many ways, from directly talking to councillors, social media, citizen satisfaction surveys, development notifications, public hearings, and of course, elections.

“In my five years on council, the public input at the end of a meeting has rarely been used, and I think when they do, it’s not as helpful in the decision-making process,” she said. “It helps me as a decision-maker to hear feedback before a decision is made. I see this as housekeeping in our procedures bylaw.”