Whitehorse City Council is waiting until next month before it decides whether to change when council’s agenda packages are made public.
Proposed changes to the procedures bylaw, which critics have said will deny the public timely access to information, were supposed to be voted on Jan. 16. Instead council decided to refer the issue back to city staff for more information.
Ahead of each council meeting a package is put together that includes any reports to be discussed and recommendations that are being made to council.
In 2013 the rules were changed so packages for Monday council meetings were available online Friday at 4 p.m. Prior to 2013 everything was made public right before the meeting started.
Now council is considering rolling things back to something in between.
The new bylaw would make council packages available at 10 a.m. Monday morning. Council meetings start at 5:30 p.m. that evening.
Coun. Rob Fendrick, who proposed the amendment, said council should have the weekend to consider the information before it is made public.
As it stands, the earliest councillors have the package emailed to them is noon on Friday, said spokesperson Jessica Apolloni. Other weeks they may not receive it until 4 p.m.
At the Jan. 16 meeting Fendrick said councillors need time with the information over the weekend to decide where they stand before potentially having to field questions from the public.
“It is a balancing act. But it’s a balancing act in terms of how well prepared can a councillor be to answer to other constituents,” he said.
Issues like bylaw and zoning changes are discussed at multiple meetings before any final vote happens, Fendrick pointed out.
“Yes there is less time, but there is (still) tons of process,” he said.
Keith Lay, a familiar face at many council meetings, told council he often spends the weekend preparing presentations for Monday’s meetings.
Not having timely access to the information means people may be unable to plan to attend a council meeting, he said.
“The proposed change will make it less likely that citizens will become involved and educated as to the issues that come before council, issues that may have a profound impact on our community.”
Marianne Darragh, who also opposes the proposed change, told council it’s a step back in transparency.
“How many opportunities does the public have to comment on this change? The motion was made without public notice, adopted, and the procedures bylaw was given first and second reading in one meeting,” she said.
“The agenda and information package was released on Friday, perhaps the last time we’ll be able to access it early enough to digest it. Tonight is third reading.”
The final vote on the issue was delayed when Coun. Samson Hartland asked city staff to look at the language and try and find a “sweet spot” that would work for everyone.
“The public’s perception is that we’re denying timely access to materials and that’s very disconcerting especially for me. I don’t believe that’s what council wants to do.”
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