Russell Council Brainstorms Question Period

By Gabrielle Vinette
Russell Council Brainstorms Question Period
On April 8, Russell councilors discussed the pros and cons of keeping or removing the question period. (Photo : File photo)

During the Russell regular council meeting on April 8, councillors brought forward their thoughts and concerns over the public engagement policy.

Councillor Mike Tarnowski was the first to share that his hope for the policy is to achieve informed decision making on the councillor’s behalf as well as have more engagement from the community to provide feedback and different perspectives. He believes a new policy It would also bring community empowerment.

“It really allows our community to feel that they have a voice, and not only every four years when we’re elected,” said Tarnowski.

A fear both Tarnowski and Councillor Lisa Deacon shared is that there will be a minimal engagement dominated by a small number of residents, creating an echo chamber leading to “policy shortcomings and failures, conflict polarizations.”

Deacon points out that a concept of open government would encourage members of the public to question and comment.

“(The concept of open government) is not about just offering the opportunity to ask questions but showing people ‘what is the impact of you showing up here, and you giving this voice’.”

Councillor Marc Lalonde would not like to have the public involved in the decision-making processes.

“We have been elected, we the council members, to undertake, to absorb, to reflect the people,” explained Lalonde. “It’s not obvious to me that I’d like to see the public suddenly have a responsibility here.”

He suggests having a survey of specific and relevant questions to send out to all residents would be a good beginning.

Councillor  Jaime Laurin asks about the financial implications of the community engagement decisions being made.

“Because there will be a price tag to that,” he said.

Laurin points out that they already have many engagement options used now through their website, social media, electronic billboard, quarterly newsletters, daily and weekly emails. He questions whether there are other options available.

“Are we going to be asking everyone’s opinion on every single item that we vote on? No. That’s why we were elected. However, there are certain items that will require Town Hall meetings or public sessions.”

Before the discussion, a resident asked during the question period why the question period section of of the meeting was several items before the strategic discussion on a public engagement.

Richard Godin, Chief Administrative Officer of Russell, said the intent of it is to really have council’s feedback before we move too far into the policy and development.”

Godin reassures the public that there will be future opportunities to comment on the policy and its development.

No decision was made at the end of the discussion. The administration has taken notes of the ideas brought forward to inform the policy’s design.

Residents are encouraged to reach out to councillors to voice their agreement or disagreement with what was presented.

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