White Rock’s new mayor didn’t wait long to institute changes in how the city does business.
In his inaugural speech Monday evening at White Rock Community Centre, Wayne Baldwin announced an end to pre-scheduled in-camera meetings, a promise of quarterly public forums and a new council committee to monitor external communications.
The changes are a demonstration of council’s “respect for the public, for each other and for the public processes by which we govern,” the former longtime city manager said.
“Closed meetings remain a necessity, but will only be held if required,” Baldwin told attendees. “Moreover, the criteria for deciding if they are to be held will not be, ‘how can we take this in-camera?’ but rather, ‘does this have to be in-camera?'”
According to the city’s 2010 annual report, council held more closed meetings (24) that year than it did regular council meetings (22).
Regarding public forums, the first will take place in spring, Baldwin said. The topic is to be determined with input from council and staff.
The new standing committee – the External Communications Review Committee – was decided through informal discussions that concluded the city must continue to improve its communications with the public and better engage citizens in the city’s governance, Baldwin said.
Members – including Couns. Larry Robinson, Grant Meyer and Helen Fathers, with Robinson as chair – are to continuously monitor council’s communications with the public and, when necessary, make recommendations for improvement or change.
Baldwin described White Rock as “a city poised on the brink of possibilities,” and council as “kind of like an Olympic bobsled team at the top of the run.”
Getting off the run is not an option, he said.
“We must move ahead as a team and do the best we can. Anything less is not acceptable,” he said. “Here at the beginning of the run the possibilities are endless. They are more than a little scary because dealing with them will mean that some things will change.”
Baldwin named addressing the renewal of the city’s commercial core as a priority, and said advice from three previous reports to increase the allowable density in the town centre must be acted on “without delay.”
He noted investment will be welcomed, but not at any cost. It must be on the city’s own terms, and provide amenities that strengthen the community, he said.
Monday’s ceremony began with the new council being piped in by Brian Porter of the Crescent Beach Pipe Band, followed by the singing of O’Canada led by Miriah Reitmeier.
Judge Suzanne MacGregor swore in the new council; outgoing mayor Catherine Ferguson passed the chain of office; Semiahmoo First Nation band councillor Joanne Charles blessed the group; and Rev. Joan McMurtry gave the invocation.
McMurtry prayed for the new mayor and council, “and all who advise them”; that they may have “the wisdom and courage to lead our city to a hope-filled future.”
Attendees Monday night included former mayors Judy Forster, Hardy Staub and Gordon Hogg (MLA for Surrey White Rock); Florence Wall, the wife of the late Art Wall, the city’s fifth mayor, was also in the crowd. Retired long-serving councillor Doug McLean turned out for the occasion, as did other former councillors and a number of candidates in the Nov. 19 civic election.