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WEB EXTRA: As I See It

When is a public meeting not a public meeting?

By ROB JOHNSON

When is a public meeting not a public meeting? It’s when you hold a meeting and don’t let anyone know.
This may be happening here in Ladysmith. Are you aware that by law each year the Town of Ladysmith has to establish a budget and a five year financial plan, and that Council is to undertake a public consultation, in effect “a public meeting”, prior to adoption of their five year plan. Notification of this public consultative process “must be in a newspaper that is distributed at least weekly”, and it “must be once each week for two consecutive weeks”. Have you seen any Town Notices about public budget meetings in the Chronicle?
The Town of Ladysmith has almost finished the process to adopt this years budget and its five year Financial Plan.
By the time you will get to read this Council will have likely completed the budget formulation. Once completed  Council has to pass the financial plan by May 15 and it will take staff most of the first part of May to write any appropriate bylaws so all the budget and the details will have to be worked out by May 4 to allow time for staff to do the required work.
One of the Budget Meetings was held April 18 at 4:30pm. I check the notice boards around Town and I could not see anything posted notifying the public of the meeting. I checked  the Town’s website and checked the Town’s own notice boards and I couldn’t find anything about the time or place of this meeting.
When questioned, Council and staff said notice was included in the agenda for the meeting for the regular Council meeting of April 18 and that Council meeting would start at 4:30 pm rather than the usual 7 pm.
I didn’t receive the notice of this Council meeting until I received an email at 5:03pm on Friday afternoon.
My question to you is have you heard anything about these meetings? Did you see any notice to the public of these Financial plan meetings in the local paper?
This leads me to question how can the public have any meaningful input into these meetings it is not being informed as to when or where they are being held? At the budget meeting that I attended there was no general public in attendance.
Do you think that the Town is meeting its legal requirement for a “public consultation process”?
In comparison the City of Duncan posted notices in their local papers inviting the public to two open houses to review and discuss their Financial Plan, weeks in advance of having to plan their budget and five year Financial Plan. They published their proposed increases to the Municipal tax rates and the reason for the increases and asked everyone to come and participate in their “Open House” to help shape their budget. Their public notice read  Duncan’s Council “is seeking your input and comments on the Financial Plan and its Capital priorities” The notice also said that the public’s “assistance would be most helpful to guide Council in considering this draft financial plan”.
Why can’t our Council be as open in establishing our Financial Plan? Why does the public have to search to find out what is happening? How will we be able to have constructive input in establishing our Town’s budget if we don’t where or when the pubic can offer it’s assistance?. This public process  should have started months ago then Council and staff would have time to evaluate the public’s input. The way things are being handled  even if we get notice to “consult” it will be too late for the public to have any affect.
At least that’s as I see it.

Do you agree or disagree with Rob?
Send us an email at editor [at] take5 [dot] ca or comment here.

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About the author: Rob Johnson

Rob Johnson

Born and bred in Ladysmith, Rob tells it like he sees it. And that's why we love him.