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Belleville council does away with controversial velvet rope

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By John R. Moodie [2]

BELLEVILLE – The blue velvet rope sectioning off Belleville’s city councils chamber from the public viewing gallery has come down.

The rope proved to be contentious. It first appeared at council’s first meeting of 2015. It was put in place as a measure to preserve the space and privacy of council.

From the outset the media and various councillors took issue with the barrier. The media expressed the change limited their ability to report on council and some councillor’s said it was unnecessary.

The rope was absent when council began this Monday evening and did not return for the duration of the meeting.

Nothing was said of the ropes absence until Councillor Egerton Boyce addressed it towards the end of the evening before council adjourned.

“Thank you, your worship for your recent donation to the archive society of a velvet rope. It is certainly appreciated,” said Councillor Egerton Boyce in jest to Mayor Taso Christopher.

Without explanation or notice to the public the velvet rope made its first appearance when council resumed this January.

At the time, City Clerk Matt MacDonald said the restriction had existed as a by-law since 2007, but had not been enforced.

MacDonald said there had been discussion between the clerk’s office, the mayor’s office and council, resulting in the decision to put the partition in place.

Not all councillors felt the measures were necessary.

“I have never seen this velvet partition or rope or barrier in 13 years in Belleville. I wasn’t consulted on it. If I was, I would say we don’t need it,” said Councillor Mitch Panciuck.

Boyce said there had never been an issue before and would rather the barrier be removed.

“I think the key to success of being an open and transparent council is to keep the availability of the council members open to the public,” he said.

The velvet rope caused a stir amongst the local media as well.

The day after its first appearance local veteran reporter Mary Thomas appeared on CJBQ’s Lorne Booker show questioning why it was suddenly necessary to restrict public access to council.

Last week The Belleville Intelligencer reported that Egerton Boyce would bring the issue of the rope at the next council meeting.

However, the rope was down before he had the opportunity to raise the issue at council.

During council, media entered the chamber to photograph people making deputations.

After council ended, the media and public mingled with council without restriction.

“I am certainly confident the rope will no longer be back up. We’ll go back to the status quo as it was during my last eleven years on council,” said Boyce, “It is nice to see it gone.”

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