White Rock city council this week unanimously passed amendments to a bylaw aimed at curbing “abusive” and “disrespectful” behaviour from residents.
Changes to the Council and Committee Procedure Bylaw were first brought to the governance and legislation committee in January, when council members noted their “increasing concern” at the lack of decorum during public meetings. Policy changes were also passed that evening to address the content and volume of correspondence received by the city, described by one member of council as “venomous.”
Mayor Wayne Baldwin told Peace Arch News Monday that the changes are meant to address “unacceptable language” used by some residents in submissions to the city and discussions at public hearings. He again pointed to a feedback form received by the city regarding a seven-storey proposal for Thrift Avenue, which the city rejected Feb. 15. Baldwin clarified that it was not the criticism of him in the letter – which referred to the mayor as a “disgrace” and called for his resignation – rather it was the language used, specifically the suggestion “mayor and coalition kissing ass with developers,” that is inappropriate.
“You can call me whatever you want,” Baldwin said. “But when you start using language like that submitted in a public document, that is wrong and it shouldn’t be allowed.”
Baldwin drew comparisons between the situation in White Rock and news reports last week out of Calgary, where Mayor Naheed Nenshi announced he was shutting down face-to-face public debate about a controversial proposed transit project due to “inappropriate” behaviour.
In Calgary, according to a statement by Nenshi, staff were subject to harassment, physical assault and threats on the part of a group of citizens, including “pushing, shoving and threats of violence.”
“Someone else is having the same difficulty,” Baldwin said. “I know a lot of municipalities do, but this is the first I’ve seen from the previously unassailable City of Calgary, with the most popular mayor in Canada.”
Baldwin pointed to a Jan. 11 council visit from Fraser Health officials to discuss water disinfection where he said they were “belittled and heckled” by audience members, noting he sent a letter of apology to the speakers.
The bylaw changes passed Monday state that “members of the public are not permitted to interrupt the meeting in any way, including outbursts, shouting out questions/comments, booing and heckling.” The bylaw goes on to detail the procedure to be followed if unwelcome behaviour persists, including expulsion.
Baldwin referred to an incident last fall during which former councillor Margaret Woods was asked to leave a public meeting after Baldwin said her behaviour was “unacceptable.” When Woods refused, Baldwin ordered the city clerk to call in the RCMP, who ultimately allowed Woods to stay.
“I was quite correct in saying that she should be ejected,” Baldwin said Monday. “Unfortunately, the RCMP did not know that. They thought they didn’t have the authority to do that.”
Coun. Grant Meyer brought up the Sept. 28 incident during his report, noting it was addressed at a recent conference he attended on ‘Integrity and Local Government.’
“They said Mayor Baldwin was right,” Meyer said. “There was a little confusion that night with the Charter, but he was absolutely within his right.”
Additional changes include limiting delegations on a single topic to once per year. Baldwin described repeated delegations as “not productive,” noting the city had seen “six delegations in a row” on similar topics, which are often referred for a staff report.
“That’s making a mockery of the system,” Baldwin said.
Asked if the absence of question period – eliminated in February 2015 – allowed for adequate avenues for the public to bring issues to council, Baldwin said question period was “not very effective.”
“To me, question period was not accomplishing very much,” he said, noting “half the municipalities” in the province don’t have it. “There are better ways of communication.”