Delegation to Council Feb 04 2013 (public hearing)

NVCV Delegation to North Vancouver City Council 4 February 2013

My name is Fred Dawkins, I live at 827 West 19th Street in the City of North Vancouver. I’m speaking on behalf of North Van City Voices, a group made up of citizens from every corner of our City – East to West, North to South.  These comments are directed to the staff report on Public Hearing Best Practices, which is on tonight’s agenda.

We agree that the city’s public hearing process can be improved. There are good suggestions in the staff’s report, but in our view they don’t go far enough.

A public hearing offers residents an opportunity to participate in open, public discussion on important civic issues. It’s their chance to have their views considered by Council, and it’s Council’s chance to gauge public opinion on the issue, and perhaps get the benefit of new information or fresh perspectives.

So the process must be fair, unbiased and transparent, and also be seen to be fair, unbiased and transparent, based on rules that are clear and consistently applied.

It has been council’s practice to ask each speaker to state his or her name and address before speaking. We believe this should continue to be a requirement. The Nov. 19 public hearing for Onni’s 13th & Lonsdale application was the first time in our collective memory that speakers were not required to give this information. As a result, some people questioned whether many of the speakers were from outside the city, and the legitimacy of the hearing came into question – rightly or wrongly, the appearance of a fair process was undermined.

The staff report acknowledges that all 16 surveyed municipalities – and this includes both the District of North Vancouver and West Vancouver — require speakers to give their name and address. Yet citing unexplained “privacy concerns”, staff recommends we become the only one to waive this requirement. In our view privacy should not trump a fair and open process. Speaking to Council at a public hearing is a public act, on the public record, in the public interest. Anonymity is not appropriate and should not be expected. People from outside the city certainly should have the right to speak if they wish, but council needs to know whether they live, work or pay taxes in this city, and therefore have a real stake in the outcome. We strongly advocate making this requirement part of our public hearing process, and for the mayor as chair to enforce it.

Regarding speaker sign-up sheets, we agree with option 1A in the staff report: that sign-up sheets continue to be used for all public hearings, that staff monitor them but only in cases where a large turnout is expected, and that the sheets continue to ask to include the speaker’s address, although we agree that this information – on the sign-up sheets, that is – does not have to be mandatory.

We agree that signing up in person should be the rule, to prevent one person signing up a multitude of people in advance.  We agree that putting out the signup sheet 1½ hours before the start of the public hearing should be enough lead time.  Should this time ever be changed, please post it on the website well in advance of the public hearing.  Again, clear and consistent rules.

On adjourning public hearings that run late, we support keeping the current practice. However we recognize the problem of requiring the Mayor to state, on the spot, exactly when the hearing will re-convene, which might be difficult logistically. It might be good practice, in cases where a large turnout of speakers is expected, to have a fallback position already prepared – that is, a tentatively scheduled second day of hearing, to be used if necessary.

We have heard the clerk state at the start of the public hearing that petitions and mail have been received.  However they are generally not included in the transcript of the hearing. Some municipalities, such as West Vancouver, list all related correspondence received, including petitions, so they’re part of the public record. We think this would be a good addition to the City’s process.

While we’re on the subject of improving processes, we would also ask that you revisit the recommendations of the Civic Engagement Task Force, particularly the suggestion that the agenda – with linked documents — be available earlier than the current practice of Fridays about 4pm. If other municipalities can have their agenda posted by end of day Thursday, surely we can too.

So, in summary, we ask that council adopt the following best practices for public hearings:

  • Require all speakers to state their name and address before speaking
  • With regard to sign-up sheets, implement recommendation 1A from the staff report
  • Be prepared for the possibility that a hearing may need to be adjourned for continuation at a later date, by tentatively scheduling in advance a second date
  • Include all related correspondence in the published transcript of the hearing

Thank you for your time.