July 25th, 2024

Council members break down chambers logistics

By Collin Gallant on July 3, 2024.

A view from down the central set of stairs in city council chambers is shown Tuesday after administrators gave an overview of layout changes planned, including the removal of the media table (roped off area) which is to become a speaker's stand for the public.--News photo Collin Gallant


Who sits where was discussed at city council on Tuesday, as well as an overview of how the public participates in council meetings being considered in changes at council chambers.

City manager Ann Mitchell told council that the two questions are increasing topics which city administration is dealing with from the public, and the update included suggesting new policy will be developed this summer.

Layout changes come about to address “staff safety concerns” and delineate areas for staff and public spaces, said Mitchell.

Corporate services acting managing director Marty Robinson told council that changes in chambers – moving the media table and returning senior administrators to the main horse-shoe table – came from a “desire to improve meeting experience by improving sight lines.”

Some work has gone forward this spring, he said, and will continue during council lull this summer when the bay in the gallery formerly used by the media will become a speaking platform for public hearings and general presentations.

Who is afforded access to address council is now determined by the administrative committee – a body of top administrators and elected officials – as it sets agendas, but that could change as the city manager’s office is now reviewing a mandate for it and a number of committees.

“Currently there is political representation on the admin committee,” said Mitchell. “We’re doing an overall committee review and it’s something we’d like to review and see if it’s something that should fit in admin or be moved somewhere else.”

She said the “agenda review” committee, which recently changed to include three council members, the city manager and city clerk, could be a better venue to hear requests.

That comes after increasing criticism that vocal critics of City Hall’s handling of dissenting viewpoints is being stifled.

Several private citizens took the opportunity and a land rezoning hearing this spring to lambaste council and administration’s handling of the code of conduct complaint and sanctions against Mayor Linnsie Clark.

Clark, attending Tuesday’s meeting on teleconference, inferred that a policy for addressing council could be developed, or the mayor could evaluate requests.

“That’s one way to do it, but there are probably 10 or 12 ways,” to maintain “respectful and honour public participation in municipal government,” said Clark.

“It’s an important discussion and I’m glad we’re beginning it,” said Clark, whose other comment revolved around budget for the changes.

Council declined budget items for chamber upgrades in 2022, said Clark, who was told funds would be spent from the city manager’s contingency funds.

Mitchell said the funds are properly approved and will be spelled out in August to council members.

Mitchell also announced the communications department is reviewing a “public administration policy” to provide general policy for city staff while interacting with the public.

Several councillors expressed an interest in hearing more input from residents, which Coun. Shila Sharps said has taken the form of several open houses recently.

Council chair, Coun. Ramona Robins, said the topic is important but needs to be managed.

“If (a person in the) public wants to come and give a strong opinion, where’s the balance?” she asked.

“It’s a philosophical question.”

Couns. Sharps and Robins also noted that from their vantage point on the left side of the table, it has always been difficult to see staff speak from side tables, and anyone from a podium that was recently moved forward.

The heads of the city’s four main operating divisions sat alongside councillors at the main semicircle until the 2017-2021 council term.

At that point they were moved to side tables with the philosophy of the city manager’s responsibility to run through issues as technically the only employee of council.

The two tables were recently moved back as extensions of the horseshoe.

Among other physical changes at chambers will be the addition of card access to lower level exits and the purchase of new blackout curtains for windows behind council seats that look out on city hall’s north lawn.

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