The City of White Rock’s annual report meeting – which some have slammed for not allowing questions from the public – was conducted according to B.C.’s Community Charter, city clerk Tracey Arthur maintains.
In Arthur’s opening preamble to the public comments section of the June 27 meeting, she had said: “It’s not a time for the speaker to be asking questions of the administration regarding the annual report.”
Arthur told Peace Arch News Monday that she had sought only to limit “technical questions of staff” in a meeting in which there was a lengthy list of people registered to speak about the report.
In subsequent emails to Arthur and council members, council watchdogs Dennis Lypka and Roderick Louis have charged the city was in direct contravention of the charter by not allowing questions from the public.
Section 99.1 of the charter states: “the council must annually consider, at a council meeting or other public meeting, (a) the annual report prepared under section 98, and (b) submissions and questions from the public.”
However, Arthur said the principal concern was allowing everyone who wanted to speak a chance to comment.
“We wanted to make sure that everyone was given an opportunity to be heard,” she said. “We have reviewed the meeting and feel the city did comply with all statutory requirements.”
Lypka told PAN he find’s Arthur’s explanations “hollow and facetious.”
“It’s time this was taken on to another arena,” he said.
Lypka and Louis have both been asking that the council and city staff take remedial steps – possibly by scheduling another meeting – to allow the public to ask questions.
The report covered city business for the year 2015, which had included contentious council decisions on a number of issues, including the purchase of the city’s water utility from Epcor, virtual clearance of vegetation from the Marine Drive hump, and leaving multi-family buildings and businesses to arrange their own solid waste-collection services.
In his request, Louis said he has continuing questions about the levels of arsenic and manganese in city-supplied water, of which there was no mention in the annual report.
Arthur responded to Lyka’s and Louis’s concerns, saying there was a “misunderstanding, because she had referred to not asking questions of the administration in her opening preamble.
“The comment ‘administration’ is what they’ve noted to me,” she said. “But it wasn’t (intended as) a blanket statement.”
In hindsight, Arthur said, she would probably clarify her remarks to say “it was not time to ask technical questions of staff.”
Responded Lypka: “If she wanted to say staff, she would have said staff.”
Further, Lypka said, under city bylaws, the ultimate responsibility for determining policy on how business conducted is council’s – not the city clerk’s.
“This was the time to ask questions,” he said, adding he doesn’t believe the decision to limit that was Arthur’s.
“If council wants to make a change like this, it should stand up and say it – but, to this point, council has been quiet about it.”
Arthur said that while she sees no necessity for a further meeting, the criticisms have been taken into account, adding that, like all comments from the public, they will influence consideration of “what we can do to make things better next time.”
She noted that some questions were, in fact, asked during the meeting and received responses from Mayor Wayne Baldwin and financial services director Sandra Kurylo.
Arthur noted she doesn’t believe that statements specifically outlining the opportunity for questions have been made prior to other years’ presentations of the annual report.
Lypka, however, cites the clerk’s notes in the agendas for the annual report meetings for 2014 and 2015, both of which state: “in compliance with the Community Charter, at this meeting, the public will have the opportunity to submit written commentary and/or comment or ask questions.”
Lypka also points out that it was Baldwin who introduced Arthur’s statement on public comment on the annual report this year by saying “we will treat this as a public-hearing process, fundamentally.”
The “quasi-judicial” nature of a public hearing is altogether different than the charter’s requirement to allow questions, he said.
“If it’s like a public hearing, you might just as well go talk to the white rock.”
“They just give people a chance to say whatever’s on their mind. Council doesn’t have to do anything about it.
“This is symptomatic of what I think is wrong about with the civic government in White Rock,” he said.
“It’s too secretive, and at every turn they seem to want to be adversarial with the public – every chance they can, they shut the doors and build the walls.
“There seems to be a fear and loathing of the public and I don’t know why – it doesn’t seem calculated to foster faith and trust in the administration.”