Prince Rupert City Council decides to put time limit on public questions

Instead of moving the Committee of the Whole to a different day, council is putting a five minute time limit on presenters.

If you have ever watched one of the City’s Committee of the Whole meetings, or even gone to ask the councillors a question about any City issue you want (which is what the meetings are for), then you are probably familiar with how they typically go.

They happen once a month before the regular council meetings begin. Sometimes one or two people show up to bring an issue to the council’s attention, some times a dozen do – often with their supporters in tow.

When people get up to ask their question of council, everyone is different. They can take as little as a couple minutes to clear up an issue, or they regularly can turn into prolonged pontifications where the resident, instead of asking a question, gives a half hour speech about an issue they are upset about But people who do this are usually the same two or three individuals.

Then after everyone who wants to has had their say the Committee of the Whole meeting ends, almost everyone except for the two or three people who usually stay to watch the whole meetings leaves, and the regular council begins often two hours after it would have usually.

This is when council actually makes decisions on issues, and it doesn’t end until everything on the agenda is dealt with, which can sometimes take three hours. By the time it’s all over, it is often late at night and everyone is so tired they probably lost interest in what was happening an hour ago.

“I don’t know about anybody else, but once it gets past 9:30 or 10 p.m., my brain is mush. I try to keep it from being that way, but when you’ve listened, and listened, and you’re trying to pay attention eventually it’s very hard to do. And my worry with that is it can lead to making rushed decisions because we want to get out of here,” said Councillor Anna Ashley.

But for now at least, the Committee of the Whole Meetings are staying as they are; which is to say that they will start at seven p.m. on the fourth Monday of the month before the regular council meeting.

But one thing will be changed. Now a presenters time will be limited to five to 10 minutes unless the council decides to give them more.

“I know it’s unpopular to be a stricter chairman, your worship, I’ve had to do that myself on many an occasion. People don’t like to be cut off, but we should get an 10-minute egg-timer so people can see their time is running out,” said Councillor Joy Thorkelson.

At their meeting last Monday, council considered a couple of different step-ups for the Committee of the Whole, but none made it through a vote.

The one most seriously considered as an alternative was to move the meeting to a different day entirely from the regular council meeting, to the third Monday of the month. That way the meeting could take as long as required, but no one would have to stay to 10:30 p.m. at night afterwards.

However, the big problem with this idea was that it wouldn’t just be the council and public that would have to show up, a meeting would also require many city staffers to come too, prepare information for it and do reports on issues raised from it. It was the increased work burden to city staff as well as the extra cost of having them come in on an extra evening that prevented this option from passing when it came to a vote.

Another solution considered was to move the Committee of the Whole meeting to start when the regular council meeting finished. But councillors felt this might discourage too many people from coming out and participating if they had to wait through a whole meeting until 10 p.m. before being able to speak.

“People should be able to come before us at a reasonable time, which is seven p.m. A reasonable time is not at 10 at night. I agree that it is difficult for us at 10 at night to be on top of our game, but I think we decided to run as city councillors and that was part of risk we take took, to have meetings that go past 10 p.m. or to 11 p.m.,” said Thorkelson.

So for now at least, the council will see if setting time limits on presentations will make a difference.