Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Respect for Citizens Needed at Council Meetings

Over the last ten years I’ve attended a couple of dozen meetings of Standing Committees of Hamilton City Council.

Usually I’ve been there to watch; occasionally I’ve been presenting. From time to time I‘ve gone home happy as the issue that had prompted my attendance had been resolved appropriately, from my perspective anyway.

But almost always I’ve headed out into the real world following these meetings out of sorts because of the lack of respect that Hamilton Council consistently shows for the public.

This lack of respect takes many forms.

First, meetings frequently start late, usually because of lack of quorum. Once I was there for a 9:30 meeting that was about to be postponed. Seconds short of 10:00 a Mountain Councillor raced into Chambers arriving just under the wire so the meeting could get started. (Not having a quorum within thirty minutes of the scheduled start means no meeting.) Let’s face it those who are there to present or listen have other responsibilities that need their time.

Second, Councillors, some more than others, feel the need to get up and leave the room a lot. To be fair it isn’t easy sitting for the hours that the job requires and some, OK most, of the dialogue is tedious but these pols knew what the job entailed when they put their names forward.

Third, and this is what really turns my crank, is the propensity some councillors have for talking with the media in the middle of meetings. Way back when we were toddlers we all learned that it was rude to talk when others are talking. And someone - staff, a member of the public or another Councillor - is always talking at a Committee meeting. In my experience most municipalities’ procedural by-laws cover such matters and committee chairs have the power to enforce.

In this context I found Andrew Dreschel’s column in today’s Hamilton Spectator interesting. (

Dreschel reports that Peggy Chapman from Mayor Bratina’s office wants to start “regulating interactions in the Council Chambers.”

That would include, apparently, not allowing reporters to talk with councillors during proceedings and restricting councillors from talking privately with reporters during meetings.

The columnist seems to think that the Mayor’s initiative may be more about “exercising control than good form.”

But if Dreschel and others took a look around they’d likely find that Hamilton is out of step with other cities who think that at the heart of good form is respect for citizens.