Backpedalling from a controversial plan to limit citizens’ access and offering up a revised version of recent history, Woolwich council adopted a policy for delegates that it says changes nothing, all the while maintaining it never meant to prevent anyone from speaking.
A change to the township’s procedural bylaw approved Tuesday night in a split vote will see staff advise residents wishing to speak on certain topics – say, for instance, environmental contamination in Elmira – that there’s also a committee of council they could address.
The alternative brought forward by Coun. Mark Bauman saw councillors move away from a position staked two weeks earlier when they first tried to prevent an Elmira resident, Dan Holt, from speaking about contamination in the Canagagigue Creek, then, after letting him proceed, came up with a hastily worded motion to funnel future requests to subcommittees of council.
Having registered to speak in advance of the Mar. 22 meeting, Holt, chair of the Citizens Public Advisory Committee, was at first halted by a contingent led by Mayor Sandy Shantz that attempted to prevent him from speaking. After being caught off guard by Holt’s simple request for an explanation, councillors responded with embarrassed silence, mumbled explanations and clutched straws.
Knowing what was coming Tuesday night, Shantz attempted to deflect criticism with a pre-emptive statement that took a revisionist slant on what happened in council chambers two weeks prior. She said council did not try to prevent Holt from speaking, when that was clearly the case.
“We fully intend to listen to concerned citizens. It’s not the intent of this council to block people from speaking,” she stressed.
But those registered to speak Apr. 5 weren’t buying it. Nor were they keen on Bauman’s revised proposal whereby staff won’t be screening would-be delegates, but advising them of other options.
Noting that council’s actions had been roundly condemned, Holt made it clear that council had in fact attempted to prevent him from speaking before backing down.
Likewise, Elmira resident Alan Marshall, another resident unpopular with some councillors, decried Shantz’s attempt to rework what happened the last time around. He also condemned council’s attempt at what he deemed censorship.
“Even if there were a viable, equal alternative to council delegations – and there is not – this still does not excuse Woolwich council censoring the subject matter of citizens wishing to address them at public council meetings.
“No council should ever ban delegates wishing to speak on serious, local concerns. Please do us all a favour and simply put that motion out of its misery,” said Marshall of Shantz’s proposed motion.
West Montrose resident Lynne Hare stressed that it’s council’s role to listen to the people of the township, rather than “closing doors and censoring citizens.”
“You may not like what is said or who is saying it … but you must listen.”
Coun. Patrick Merlihan, blindsided Mar. 22 by the last-minute machinations of some of his colleagues, again condemned the manoeuvring as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, and a poor solution at that.
“I was hoping it wouldn’t get this far,” he said of the revised motion, noting yet another bureaucratic policy provides no benefit.
As with the last go-round, he stressed the importance of hearing firsthand from township citizens.
“Listening to residents is essentially the job,” he said, noting the insight that comes from hearing from people rather than relying on information filtered through staff reports and the minutes from other meetings.
“I’d like to continue to hear from concerned citizens as delegations.”
Coun. Murray Martin, while maintaining the issue was “blown way out of proportion,” voted against the revised motion, claiming it would make no difference “because of the type of people we’re dealing with.”
“What we’re doing here doesn’t have any teeth.”