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Belleville council puts off decision to change council meetings to Tuesday

By John R. Moodie [1]

BELLEVILLE – A move by the mayor’s office to change council meetings from Mondays to Tuesdays has raised doubt amongst councillors.

The debate came out of a report by the Clerk’s office [2] that recommended that Monday council meetings be moved to Tuesdays. The report was done at the request of the Mayor’s office.

One issue is whether Cogeco can continue to provide coverage of council meetings.

“I would say that if we don’t know if Cogeco can tape us on Tuesday night then this item will have to be tabled until we can get accreditation from Cogeco,” said councillor Garnet Thompson.

It was councillor Jack Miller who first questioned whether Cogeco [3] would be prevented from covering council if meetings were pushed to Tuesday.

“I know that in the past when council has met Tuesdays because of holidays on Mondays, Cogeco has been unable to televise the proceedings and the debates,” said Miller.

He stressed that Cogeco’s coverage of city council provides an important service to the public.

“One thing about Cogeco is people can hear every piece of the debate and follow the entire proceedings as opposed to what the media can provide. Which obviously is significantly capsulized due to space and airtime,” said Miller, “I Think that’s something that we really need to know the answer before we can proceed.”

There were other concerns raised as well. Councillor Egerton Boyce brought up the issue of transparency.

“The problem I have with this is. I think it is contrary to being open and transparent,” said Boyce.

Another recommendation made in the report would provide council with the agenda on Thursday. The media and public wouldn’t get access to the agenda until Monday morning. In the past, council, the public and the media would get the agenda, all at the same time on Fridays.

Boyce questioned the fairness of giving council more time to get familiar with the agenda than the public and the media.

“What this is basically saying is council will get the minutes on Thursdays. Where in the past the public and council have been able to get the minutes at the same time. The media included,” said Boyce.

“This goes against the idea of being open and transparent.”

Boyce said this would give the media and public less time to go over the agenda.

“In my opinion its not allowing the public ample opportunity,’ said Boyce.

The report by the city clerk’s office said the changes were meant to ensure council members have enough time to review and consider information provided by the agenda prior to meetings.

According to Belleville city by-law the agenda is made public 4:30 on Friday afternoons. This gives the public and media 3 days to go over the agenda. If council meeting were moved to Tuesdays and the agenda released 9 o’clock, on Monday morning, this would give the public and media only 24 hours to get familiar with the agenda.

In an effort to promote greater public participation councillor Paul Carr made a motion to start council at a later time so the public would have more opportunity to take part.

Carr said the average citizen works from nine to five and setting the start time of council to 5:30 would give people a reasonable opportunity to come to council.

“Whether to observe in the public gallery or actually engage council in an emerging issue,” said Carr. “I know that not everybody has Cogeco cable. So increasing that accessibility is good. Its not an unreasonable time.”

He pointed out that most cities outside of Belleville begin council at later times.

“Quinte West has council meetings at 6 p.m. Kingston is at 7:30 p.m. Brockville and Cornwall are both at 7 pm,” said Carr, “The city of Peterborough is 6:30. The city of Oshawa is 6:30. Then we get into the GTA. Whitby, Ajax and the city of Pickering are all at 7 p.m.”

“I am sure that if all these municipalities East of GTA, right up to the Quebec border, can make it happen, I am sure we can make it happen as well.”

In response to the concerns raised about moving the meeting to Tuesdays, city council has put off its decision to move council meetings until January.