Eganville – Question time after council meetings for residents, or perhaps a town hall quarterly, are among the suggestions being tossed about at North Algona Wilberforce (NAW) council to improve communication with residents.

Council is discussing ways of improving communication with residents, following a letter of complaint about a lack of communication at present and the lack of discussion at council meetings.

“Some municipalities, once a month or every two months have a town hall,” said Councillor Janet Reiche-Schoenfeldt at the most recent meeting of council. “Is that something that maybe… sometimes I do find some of the residents feel they don’t have a voice.”

This was discussed in the strategic plan and she suggested having a mechanism in place or looking at implementing something like that.

The issue of communication – or lack thereof — was introduced after long-time resident Muriel Verch wrote a letter to council asking for improved communication with council and the opportunity to come to a council meeting to discuss her concerns.

“I feel communication between council and ratepayers is lacking in our township and would like the chance to tell council how it feels to come to a meeting or try and listen to a meeting online and read minutes and really be no wiser,” her letter stated.

Her concerns were discussed during the April 16 council meeting.

“Before COVID hit we had something in place so at the end of the meeting, and I forget all the details, that members of the gallery could talk, but it was not necessarily to get the answers that night,” noted Coun. Reiche-Schoenfeldt.

This was never re-introduced after the meetings were held in person again, she said.

“The whole idea was to allow people to talk, realizing we don’t have all the answers right away,” she said.

Mayor James Brose said they had this in committee meetings but then they moved away from committee meetings into only having council meetings and it was not reinstated.

“So, it is a possibility we could look into going back to that,” he said.

There is a challenge with committee meetings because there is more staff time required and more meetings, he added.  

Councillor Doug Buckwald said in terms of committee meetings, there was a time when council had to have them because there was not enough information in the reports from staff. This is not the case anymore, he noted.

“I think the quality of our reports and the reports now are much better,” he said. “A lot of our questions get answered now before we have to ask them.”

He said going back to the committee meetings might not be needed. However, he said he was open to questions from ratepayers.

“Having a period in the meeting, once the business has been done, if people want to raise questions of what was in the meeting, for their understanding, that they know what was talked about and how we got there, I would be fine with that,” he said.

It would be a matter of keeping things on track, he added.

Councillor Maria Robinson said she has been at other meetings when there is a limited time when someone can speak, so people don’t go “on and on.”

“But give them an opportunity to bring something forward,” she said. “So, I think something needs to be explored.”

Coun. Buckwald suggested staff look at options and what other municipalities were doing, then bring a report to council. Having an opportunity for people to ask questions was done in the past when he was on council and it went well, he added.

“I know we had some issues here in recent history, in previous council,” he said. “But I think maybe it is time to see what options are out there.”

Coun. Reiche-Schoenfeldt said it is important to look at the matter.

“It can’t turn into a grumpy session against council, it has to be something productive, so we move the business of council forward in a positive way,” she said.

There are times residents have ideas she has never thought about and this can be a benefit to the municipality, she added.

“Sometimes there is a problem out there and someone in the gallery may have an idea of how to solve it,” she said.

Mayor Brose said having a town hall meeting occasionally would be something he would prefer, rather than the question time after meetings.

Council directed staff to look at some options which would work and bring a report back to council.

Council also directed staff to provide a delegation form to Mrs. Verch so she can fill in her request to address council at an upcoming meeting.