City of Vernon shuts down town hall meetings

A test drive on Vernon city council holding open town-hall-style public meetings won’t even leave the garage

A test drive on Vernon city council holding open town-hall-style public meetings won’t even leave the garage.

Council voted against a motion put forward by Coun. Scott Anderson, who asked that council implement a test of one moderated town hall meeting in October or November.

The meeting would be informal with no defined topics, and would give participants two minutes to ask a question or make a comment to council.

“It’s something that should be driven by council and I’m quite willing to give it a test drive,” said Coun. Catherine Lord. “I’m not sure how well it’s going to work. If we don’t try it we won’t know.”

Anderson said the idea for the town hall meeting was to have an informal evening where people would feel comfortable talking to council members.

“It wouldn’t be as formal as we are sitting right here (in council chambers),” said Anderson. “It’s pretty hard for people to address and get their concerns out looking at a panel that looks like judges.

“Everyone has an opinion and there isn’t much of an outlet for it. A test drive like this allows that to happen and we can reassess after it happens.”

Coun. Brian Quiring said such meetings could turn into a “huge make-work project” and a big “bitch-fest.”

“You have all these concerns come out that are being raised, then what are we going to do with them?” asked Quiring.

“I’m not prepared to vote in favour until I get a sense of what it will look like, how it will functions and what we’re going to do with the concerns raised. I’m nervous about doing it. If we do a trial run, there has to be some parameters and boundaries. A big public forum could be a disaster.”

Mayor Akbal Mund said there’s no way he could support a town hall meeting.

“By inviting everybody into a room and discussing whatever you want it becomes more personal,” said Mund. “We start agreeing on some topics that some councillors have passion about, and others disagree on some, it doesn’t make us look good, does it? I don’t feel it does as a team, anyway. My fear is that’s what’s going to happen at these meetings.”

Coun. Juliette Cunningham said council is very easy to get a hold of.

“When people have concerns, they contact us,” she said. “Through staff and council, we address their concerns. People call me at home, e-mail me or see me downtown, I’m always happy to hear what they have to say and I do what I can to address their issues.”

Council, in May, requested staff to bring forward recommendations and alternatives for council to host periodic public town hall meetings.

Five options were presented in a report – Anderson’s motion was the sixth – and council voted on option four.

That is, staff will continue with the current community consultation practice of actively engaging and consulting with the community on new initiatives; conducting business in a transparent manner; and implement goals and deliverables outlined in council’s strategic plan, many of which include a form a consultation and communication initiative.