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City HallTime allotted for citizens to speak at city council meetings has been cut in half. The time will be dropping from 10 minutes to five minutes as of Jan. 27.

 

John Klein, a former city council candidate and occasional presenter at Council meetings, said he feels that this decision is a step backwards for getting citizen participation. “It’s not moving in the right direction. As for getting more democratic input from citizens, it sends the wrong message completely,” said Klein.

 

Another problem, said Klein, is a citizen needs to know what’s on the agenda before they can present at council but the agenda is not released until Friday, while the deadline for submitting briefs is Thursday.

 

“There’s no way the average citizen can look up on regina.ca what’s coming up at the next meeting  and say, ‘Oh I need to talk on that,’ write something and show up on the next Monday.”

 

Klein said the city should make a draft agenda available the week prior to the meeting and before the deadline for citizen-written briefs.

 

But while citizens still need to present comments in writing, the rules for making presentation have been relaxed, according to Bob Hawkins, city councillor for Ward 2. He said he thinks it’s a very good change.

 

He said that citizens no longer have to read their briefs verbatim. Since the councilors have already read the brief, citizens will have five minutes to speak in their own words about their brief and then there will be an opportunity for councils to ask questions. He said time can be added if necessary.

 

“I think it is a change that will increase citizens’ ability to participate democratically in council deliberation,” said Hawkins.

 

“It’s a better system, a more democratic system, a better way of getting citizen input than we had before,” said Hawkins. As for the tight timeline for submitting briefs, Hawkins said it’s never been a problem.

 

“That’s the way it’s always been and the reason is simply that citizens know what issues are before council and they can submit to the issue,” he said.

 

Mayor Michael Fougere said the new rules allow citizens to make more points if new information has turned up since the writing of the brief, contributing to better discussion.

 

Fougere pointed out that members of council are themselves only allowed five minutes. As well, he noted residents don’t need to provide written briefs to city committees. “You can walk off the street, have nothing written at all and speak at anyone of our committees. No other levels of government allow that democratic process for residents to speak their views,” said Fougere.

 

On Jan. 27, the Saskatoon city council also reduced the time allotted to citizens to five minutes.