Pitt Meadows councillors, to avoid politicking and grandstanding in council chambers in the lead-up to the next municipal election, voted Tuesday to suspend question period for six weeks prior to the polls opening.
Council will otherwise allow a 15-minute question and comment period, when members of the public can speak for up to three minutes.
Coun. Tracy Miyashita accused her colleagues of being afraid of competition, and of losing their seats on council.
“I feel it’s kind of silly for us to change an entire bylaw because this council is afraid. We’re afraid of a question?
And we can’t handle that?” she asked.
Miyashita said she has not seen a problem with people campaigning at meetings in the past, and added the only person she can remember doing so was Coun. David Murray, who told the chambers he was running for council.
She said the mayor is in control of meetings and has the authority to rule speakers out of order.
Coun. Bill Dingwall said he attended council meetings in the weeks prior to the last election, and he didn’t see an issue.
“It is incumbent upon the mayor to control any dialogue that is inappropriate or unprofessional,” said Dingwall.
Council should encourage citizens to comment and ask questions about city business at every meeting they hold in public, he said.
“The citizens should have access to council at any time there is a meeting.”
But Coun. Janis Elkerton said the political grandstanding by council candidates is “blatantly evident” when one watches video of meetings leading up to the last election, and that council still gets public input at open houses, town hall meetings, coffee with council, by phone and email contact.
She said other municipalities have made similar changes, and more are considering their options.
Elkerton also talked about council members facing abuse in social media, including attacks on personal appearance and insinuation that councillors are taking bribes.
“This is my seventh term, I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.
Mayor John Becker agreed that council is operating in “a different political environment,” but said the social media comment was not relevant to the debate about limiting question period.
Coun. Bruce Bell supported the six-week elimination of question period, to avoid personal attacks from political opponents.
He also convinced council to increase the time for an individual’s question or comment from two minutes to three.
Coun. Mike Stark noted he attended all council meetings for six years prior to his election, and he agreed with six weeks of no question period.
Dingwall reiterated that the tone had been respectful, and called it “an issue of public engagement.”
At that point, Elkerton produced an image she said was taken from social media that showed a photo of Dingwall between herself and Murray.
“Clowns to the left, idiots to the right, stuck in the middle again,” is what it read, she said, while Dingwall asked for her to be ruled out of order, on a point of personal privilege.
Becker did rule her out of order, and said it was “neither the time nor the place.”
There had been several public complaints about the change. Becker read one: “It seems like nothing more than a strong arm tactic from our disliked and disrespected mayor to silence the residents of Pitt Meadows. It seems to me that this mayor would like nothing more than to have an undisputed and unchallenged dictatorship type of rule over the city, and not have to have input from the citizens who live here.”
Becker then offered his reaction to her letter.
“Remember that we, as a community, are trying to do better than this.”
Becker said people in council chambers often have passionate opinions, and they hold dialogue and reach consensus or compromise.
The six-week suspension of question period came as an amendment to council’s procedures bylaw. The bylaw will be back at council for final adoption in October. The next municipal election will be in two years, October 2018.