Members of Brock Township council are gearing up for an evening meeting on Monday (Jan. 7) – the first in a six-month trial schedule.
Last month, council newcomers Mike Jubb (Ward 1) and Claire Doble (Ward 2) brought forward a proposal that would see committee meetings get underway at 1 p.m. and council meetings start at 7 p.m.
“The motion put forward by myself and Coun. Doble to have evening council meetings was done for one main reason – to increase public engagement and include the public as much as possible,” Coun. Jubb said in an interview.
“Transparency is a very big priority for council and having meetings on a Monday morning at 10 a.m. does not encourage public involvement. This trial period of 7 p.m. meetings will now allow the working folk to engage with council and the business of the municipality. I strongly encourage members of the public to attend.”
Coun. Doble agreed.
“I’ve been spreading the word and encouraging people to come out — I guess we’ll see,” she said.
“Even if only a handful or none at all attend, it’s important that council meetings are accessible to the majority of our residents if they choose to take advantage.”
The motion passed by a 4-3 margin. Mayor Debbie Bath-Hadden and Ward 5 Councillor Lynn Campbell voted in favour, while Regional Councillor Ted Smith, Ward 3 Councillor Walter Schummer and Ward 4 Councillor Cria Pettingill voted against.
Coun. Schummer was the first to speak against the proposal, noting that previous efforts to engage residents through evening meetings have not proven successful.
“Any time that evening meetings have been brought in to increase engagement, it hasn’t happened,” he said.
Evening meetings – particularly those that run late – can limit debate, Coun. Schummer noted, and lead to increased staff costs.
“There is going to be a cost passed down to the taxpayers,” he said.
CAO/Clerk Thom Gettinby estimated that the cost could run anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, depending on the length of the meetings.
Coun. Smith and Coun. Pettingill also voted against the motion, citing many of the points raised by Coun. Schummer.
“We haven’t seen any response from the public (attending evening meetings)…it just doesn’t seem to work,” Coun. Smith said, who also worried about burning out members of staff.
Coun. Pettingill noted that a Township bylaw precludes meetings from running past 10:30 p.m.
“There’s that deadline looming in people’s minds,” she said.