Council aims for more civility
The Community Charter sets out the need of every municipality to have a Procedure Bylaw, a document which, among other aspects, defines terms, rules, and responsibilities.
It guides council members in ways that will help them avoid improper conduct, such as staying on topic and not causing a disturbance, or unduly delaying the business of the meeting.
The bylaw states that council members “must conduct themselves at all times with behaviour respectful of their duties as members of council and not use offensive or derogatory words or unparliamentary language in a meeting or against the council or against any member of staff.”
Regular observers of Township council meetings will have noticed a disintegration of civility when feelings run high, and now council, at its last meeting before the summer break, has amended the bylaw to spell out decorum — for those in the public gallery.
One political watchdog, a regular at Township council meetings, remarked that at a recent public hearing, a couple of the delegates used the council chambers “as their own personal living room,” walking around freely during the presentations and disregarding Mayor Rick Green’s requests to end their lengthy speeches.
After he attended a meeting of White Rock council, Councillor Charlie Fox suggested that the Township follow the example of that seaside town and set a five-minute limit on speakers’ time, and ban cheering, heckling and applause.
“Are you saying that they can’t clap?” asked Councillor Kim Richter.
“That’s sanitizing things. This is the public’s place of government and they need to have the right to be able to show their support,” she said.
Outbursts from the gallery are not unusual, and council members interrupting each other are also becoming more frequent.
However, at a recent public hearing into the Fort Langley IGA’s rebuilding plan, there was applause from the gallery.
The amendment makes that taboo.
The amendment reads: “Decorum must be maintained at all times, this includes refraining from applause, booing or heckling.”
Recalling the applause for the IGA plan, Green said he wasn’t sure how the chairman (typically the mayor) of a meeting can control that.
“It’s out of my hands to do that,” he said.
“We are not a court of law,” Richter responded to comments from other councillors.
“This is place for people and people have the right to express themselves.”
Fox noted that people at the public hearing clapped in appreciation, but limits should be placed on how long they can talk.
Others agreed with Richter.
“I don’t really think we need this,” said Councillor Steve Ferguson.
The amendment passed with Richter, Ferguson and Green voting against it.