The issue of whether to include an ‘open mic’ segment at Kelowna city council drew passionate debate at its Feb. 13 morning meeting.
Concerns were raised over setting high expectations that council will act on every issue brought forward by the public, special interest groups, and individuals using it as a platform to spread misinformation or defame others.
“What has changed over the past few years, and I’ve lived this over the past few weeks, is there is a massive amount of misinformation and outright untruths and lies,” said Coun. Loyal Wooldridge.
“I am not going to sit in this place and create a public forum for people to share information that is incorrect, not true or defamatory.”
Wooldridge added he is very much in favour of giving the public more opportunities to speak to council.
“I think we can do a better job of that for very specific subject matter, but I have extreme concerns about an open mic for anyone to discuss whatever they want without that content being vetted.”
He referenced the recent controversy over Drag Queen Story Time at the Okanagan Regional Library.
“The amount of vitriol that I personally have received of untruths was unacceptable. So if we don’t have a measured way of managing that, it can become a mess.”
Staff told council it would need to set parameters for an open mic segment, and in the event of an extreme example of a defamatory or racist comment, the public mic could be turned off.
While he said he understood the concerns put forth by Wooldridge, and others, Coun. Gord Lovegrove was in favour of implementing an open mic policy.
“The big thing is the control of the agenda, that to me is the rub,” added Lovegrove. “I don’t think it’s right of council to be controlling what people want to speak to us about. What are we afraid of?”
During the debate all of council stated that they made themselves accessible to the public, meeting with people individually or with neighbourhood groups on a regular basis.
“I don’t sense that the public can’t communicate with us,” said Coun. Luke Stack. “I think the public has great access to council.”
While the issue prompted much debate in chambers, Coun. Maxine DeHart pointed out that there didn’t seem to be much public interest.
“We hardly have anybody here,” she said, noting that only a couple of people were in attendance. “Obviously they are not interested because we have been putting this through the media for weeks.”
After several back-and-forth comments between councillors, a staff recommendation to expand Committee of the Whole meetings to hear public delegations was voted on and passed, with councillors Lovegrove and Ron Cannan voting against.
“It’s a tool that has been in place many years and it hasn’t been used,” said Cannan.
He then made a motion to implement open mic sessions on a six-month trial basis.
“It’s more access and one more positive step for the public.”
The motion was defeated by council.
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our daily and subscribe to our daily newsletter.