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Thread: Question and answers before a public hearing

  1. #1
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    Question and answers before a public hearing

    Our department is located in BC, Canada and has had issues with councilors and presenters asking questions to staff during a public hearing. To try and fix this the top planner has proposed holding a 30 minutes q & a period for councilors and public to ask staff questions prior to a public hearing.

    Does anyone know the legality about having a 30 minute question and answer period prior to a public hearing? Do any other departments/towns have a similar format?

  2. #2
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    For public hearings regarding our Sector Plans (neighborhood plans), we hold a last minute workshop to answer questions from the public. The Commission is not included in the workshop, but I see no reason why they couldn't be a part so long as you post notice that a quorum of the Commissioners is possible (I don't know what you're open meetings laws are like in Canuckistan, so you might check with your city attorney).

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  3. #3
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    I don't understand- are the questions not germaine to the cases you are presenting? I would think that if they are, they should be part of the hearing. If not, you can rule them "out of order".
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    I'm with KSharpe.

    Isn't the purpose of a public hearing so that questions can be asked? And as staff, you should be the ones answering the more difficult questions.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Many communities are not very strict on their following of procedure. Frankly, I don't think it is much of a big deal if they want to handle it differently. A public hearing is supposed to be just that - an opportunity to hear from the public. It does not generally include any response from staff or the commission, although sometimes a clarifying comment should be made. The staff and commission discussion on an item is meant to occur later.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian plnrgrl's avatar
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    If the Q&A session is public (workshop or hearing), what's the difference? It is still asking questions during a public workshop / hearing.

    You can't do it outside of the public (maybe in Canada it is different?) There are sunshine requirements that prevent elected officials from that legally.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Here are my random thoughts:

    It's up to the meeting chair to decide whether anyone can ask staff questions during a hearing. As a general rule it seems to me that board members can freely ask questions, probably it technically should be done through the chair, but public presenters should not. Board members should try to elicit information that will help them to make a decision. I don't like opening staff up to cross examination by the public, however.

    It is OK for individual board members to communicate with staff before a public meeting. That does not constitute an improper ex parte communication. It is ex parte, however, and should be disclosed.

    A quorum of the board should not meet with the staff outside of the public hearing, unless the public and the press are invited. That would violate most states' sunshine acts. I assume there is a Canadian equivalent.

    Why don't you want these questions to be asked in the hearing?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    They do this at our council meetings. The councilmen used to gather in a conference room and discuss the agenda before the meeting. Not really to be sneaky, they were just waiting for the meeting to start and asking other members about some topics. Then they reailized by doing so, they were in violation of the open meetings act, so the started advertising it and inviting the public. They now call it the 'caucus session' to the meeting. They say they like it because it allows the meeting to go faster. I laugh and say why not cancel the caucus session, start the regular meeting a half hour early and do the whole thing in the chambers. Its stupid to stuff 30 people in a conference room met for 20 and discuss the same thing your gonna discuss in half an hour on the floor.

    The only difference is no one takes minutes at the caucus session so any public comments never make it onto public record. When they ask me if I have anything to say, I always politely decline and tell them I'll save it for the regular meeting.

    If this is the case in your situation, you might rethink it. If there is opposition brought up in the Q & A session but not the meeting, does it go on public record? I'll bet most in the public don't know the difference and when someone is looking at the notes at a later date, it may appear like there was no comments when there actually was. This could affect decision making.

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