Council wants to revive question period

ARICHAT: Councillors voted for the return of a public question period.

During a committee-of-the-whole meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on November 9 in Arichat, Warden Amanda Mombourquette asked council if they want to allow for public engagement before the end of regular monthly meetings.

“Obviously with the pandemic, that could be logistically complicated potentially but we do want to put that on the table,” she said.

District 1 councillor Shawn Samson said he never agreed with the decision to eliminate that part of the meeting agenda.

“I would welcome back question period, for sure,” Samson told council. “For me, to have people here on a regular basis, and you see them at every meeting, if they have a question of council, they should have every right to ask that question, and for us to answer it, if we can at the time.”

Deputy warden Michael Diggdon agreed and noted there are ways other than public meetings for residents to ask questions.

“I think it’s important, I think it’s great to allow the people the time to speak,” he said. “I believe we have to proceed with caution in this pandemic. Maybe let everybody know our e-mails are accessible, so if they do have a question and they don’t think they can come in, definitely e-mail anyone of us that’s on the Web site. We can bring their question to council and possibly answer it for them.”

District 3 councillor Melanie Sampson said she also wants to hear from residents, but thinks the shape of question period should be further discussed.

“I think we want to be cautious with our time as well,” she noted. “We want to make sure people are asking questions, as opposed to using the forum as an opportunity to present a position.”

When asked by Mombourquette whether council wants to maintain the previous time limit of 15 minutes, the deputy warden said council should consider those forced to travel to pose their questions.

District 5 councillor Brent Sampson agreed, pointing out that many of his constituents live more than 30 minutes from the municipal office in Arichat.

But Diggdon said those giving responses should keep their statements brief.

“Questions asked at question period should be very simple, quick and you move on to the next one,” Chief Administrative Officer Don Marchand told council.

The councillor for district 3 agreed and asked whether questions can be “partially vetted” before people rise to speak. She noted that some answers can be provided after meetings.

“I don’t want to negatively impact people’s ability to speak but I also absolutely agree with councillor Diggdon, we need to respect the time of everyone,” she noted. “We should be able to fit in three to four questions at every question period.”

Diggdon then made a motion to reinstate the 15 minute question period, with an option on a meeting-by-meeting basis to extend that time, which was approved unanimously.