PORT HAWKESBURY: A new tradition took hold at last week’s regular meeting of town council, which ended with the introduction of a public question period for residents in attendance.
A recommendation from Port Hawkesbury Town Council’s Committee-of-the-Whole to set aside 15 minutes for questions and clarifications from the public at the end of all regular council meetings received unanimous approval from councillors in attendance at the February 6 session.
The united front drew a warm response from Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton, who described the move as a key step towards improved community engagement and expressed hope that it will also spark increased attendance at council meetings.
“I really hope that it will pique people’s curiosities,” Chisholm-Beaton told reporters following last week’s council meeting at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre’s Shannon Studio.
“Rather than just sitting back and being observers, they’ll have the opportunities to ask questions and get clarifications and maybe find out a little more about the agenda items, or maybe if they have any comments. And we’re hopeful that it will be a really positive experience for council and for our citizens as well.”
While the guidelines for the new question period will restrict public questions or comments to the issues tackled on a given meeting’s official agenda, residents will also have the opportunity to receive a written response to their answers from Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Terry Doyle, should their questions fail to receive a direct answer during the question period itself.
“Persons wishing to ask questions will be acknowledged by the mayor as fairly and equitably as possible,” Doyle explained during the meeting. “No person will be permitted to speak twice if a person who has not yet spoken is waiting to speak.”
While Port Hawkesbury officials have not set aside time at the end of their regular council meetings for questions from the public for several decades, Mayor Chisholm-Beaton noted that any resident had the right to speak to council at any point during the meeting, provided that councillors granted unanimous consent for such a request.
However, she added that the new system will provide a direct line of communication between Port Hawkesbury residents and their council, while increasing transparency with regards to the town’s operation.
“We feel strongly that our citizens have a lot to offer, and that’s the direction that we’re setting for ourselves,” Chisholm-Beaton declared.
“That’s something that I wanted to do as mayor, to give those citizens who did take the time to come to observe council meetings the ability to get up and ask a question if they had one… I think this is a friendlier way to allow the citizens to engage in municipal dealings and municipal issues, or if they need clarification.”
During the meeting, Chisholm-Beaton confirmed that town officials will alert the public of the new question period through the town’s official Web site and its various social media channels.