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Open mike idea opens council up for long nights

In Barrie
Oct 30th, 2010

By BOB BRUTON Barrie Examiner October 30 2010
I’m of two minds about having an open microphone segment at Barrie city council meetings. While I’m all for residents having access to the councillors they have elected, I’m not sure the rest of us — meaning me — should have to listen to it every Monday night.
There are citizens in this community, and we all know who they are, who just like to hear themselves talk.
And talk into a mike when the TV cameras are rolling, as Rogers broadcasts council meetings.
It’s bad enough listening to city councillors who like to hear themselves talk when they have little or nothing to say.
I’m not sure I want to hear residents do it, too.
There is also an opportunity for abuse here, for people with certain causes to hijack the council agenda for their own purposes. With an open mike, they can also do it every week.
Other than bringing a bag of vegetables to throw, there’s not much anyone could do about this weekly hot air.
But don’t get me wrong, I like democracy. I’m generally opposed to dictatorships and totalitarian governments.
The voting in of candidates, the voting out of politicians.
The ability of people to decide who will govern them. And that people can be involved with their governments, to have its ear, to bend its ear, to be part of the decision-making process.
I like it all.
But (and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming) there can be too much democracy, too much of a good thing.
We elect our politicians to make certain decisions for us. Yes, for us.
That doesn’t mean we can’t give them a piece of our minds.
So call them. E-mail them. Text-message them. Arrange to meet them, in person (gasp!). If you want to tell them what a swell job they are doing, send them a card in the mail.
I doubt, however, that most people who would stand at council’s open mike would come bearing good news.
The pothole in their street, the neighbour with a car parked on his lawn, why their road gets ploughed last every time it snows, why they can’t put their trash out at noon and still have in picked up, how to call the dogcatcher, how many cats a house can have, why there are kids skateboarding on the tennis courts and why can’t the city rake the darn leaves in Barrie parks.
These are the kind of questions that will come from an open mike. And they’re all questions that city staff can answer.
Maybe Rob Hamilton was right, that Barrie should have a 311 line that connects callers with the right staff person to answer their question, to solve their problem.
But Hamilton didn’t win last Monday’s election, Jeff Lehman did.
He’s the next mayor, and he wants an open mike as part of his promise to open up city hall to Barrie residents.
It’s a noble philosophy. People should have opportunities to be part of the democratic process.
An open mike isn’t a done deal, however, at least not yet.
Barrie’s procedural bylaw needs to be changed to allow deputations to council on any issue, not just motions council is dealing with, and not just from those who oppose these motions.
Perhaps what’s needed is a time limit, so those at the open mike are brief, get to the point, don’t make speeches or provide needless background material that everyone already knows.
How about five minutes, total. Bob Bruton is the Examiner’s city hall reporter. He’s against just about anything that makes city council meetings longer.


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