Not in my city.
That’s the message Jim Young delivered to Burlington city council when it came time to discuss a proposed new time limit of five minutes for delegation speakers at committee meetings.
“We live in a time when the Rob Fords and Donald Trumps of this world lend false voice to the anger and frustration of those ignored and overlooked voters,” said Young, a member of the Burlington Seniors Advisory Committee
Young’s speech helped convince council to keep the present system of allowing delegates a full 10 minutes to present their cases at the committee level. They also are entitled to a further five minutes at full meetings of council.
In a recorded vote of 6-1, only Councillor Rick Craven was opposed to staying with the 10-minute limit.
It was one of the longest debates at council in recent memory. The final vote was taken at 8:45 p.m. in a meeting that began at 6:30. Most council meetings are over in two hours.
There were 18 delegations at one meeting this year at which the community and corporate services committee considered a $14-million project for the LaSalle Park Marina. Each person spoke for 10 minutes and it ate up three hours of the committee’s time.
Craven suggested council move down to the five-minute rule at committee meetings, but maintain the flexibility of allowing more if the person makes a special request. He pointed out that a majority of the municipalities surveyed by Councillor Blair Lancaster already have a five-minute limit at committee.
However, Mayor Rick Goldring opposed reducing the time limit to five minutes.
“For a city that prides itself on engaging with the public, it sends the wrong message,” he said.
Councillor Lancaster said the City has 26 developments coming down the tube over the next year, that it knows of, and wondered how council is going to get all the work done if the time limit were not reduced. She also recalled some meetings ran so late, they had to be carried over to another night. But in the end she voted in favor of maintaining the 10-minute limit.
Councillor Jack Dennison wanted no part of a reduction in time.
“It’s not just about us,” he said, “it’s about our citizens. The reason we have meetings at night is so that people can come here.
Dennison said the highways are jammed packed with commuters returning from work in Toronto in the late afternoon.
“This is one of the longest council meetings we’ve had in a long time and the reason is we’re being told people don’t want to lose the privilege of coming here to speak.”
Councillor Marianne Meed Ward said it is not public input that’s slowing council down.
“I personally have changed my mind and vote after getting new information from the public,” she said. “More input leads to greater exchange of information which leads to better decisions.”
Earlier in the evening John Searles, who serves on the Burlington Charter Action Team, said people want to get their point across.
“I submit that five minutes is not reasonable,” he said. “If you cut the time, it flies directly in the face of the charter.”
Aldershot resident Tom Muir said he has been coming to City Hall to speak for the last 25 years.
“Ten minutes seems to work for me at committee, sometimes I can do it in eight,” he said. “But I can’t do it in five.
“It’s an insult to citizens to reduce the limit to five minutes. If you (councillors) are too tired to listen to citizens, maybe you have been doing this job too long and should quit.
“If council chooses to reduce this time for residents to present, then it is being disrespectful of their information and views, and is therefore choosing a decision process that is half-blind.”
Anne Marsden, who ran for mayor in 2014, made a plea to council to refer several proposed changes to the City’s procedural bylaw back to staff with a request that a well publicized public meeting be held before proceeding further.
Written by: Denis Gibbons