Petrolians voice concerns as councillor suggests ending public questions


Petrolia Councillor Mary Pat Gleeson wants to limit the amount of questions the public can ask during council meetings. And it is not sitting well with some town residents.
At Monday’s meeting, Gleeson introduced a notice of motion – basically the intention to talk about an issue – to change the public question process.
Right now, there are two chances each meeting for anyone to walk up to the podium and ask a question. They don’t have to give advance warning of their topic.
In the last few months, in the wake of the resignation of the former chief administrative officer, there have been lots of questions. While most have been pointed, a few questions ended in shouting and threats by the mayor to clear the room when there was comment from the public gallery.
A Concerned Citizen’s Group was formed and asks questions about things like purchasing.
Three local developers also have raised concerns about the relationship between Mayor John McCharles and the developers he represents.
Last week, the town’s integrity commissioner, former municipal administrator Nigel Bellchamber, came to council urge the town to change the process so councillors could avoid being “blindsided” and having “grenades thrown at them.”
Gleeson says she researched 16 different municipalities, including those in Lambton County for her proposal.
Under Gleeson’s plan, there would be no more spontaneous public questions. Residents who wanted to speak would have to ask to be placed on the agenda as a delegation, with an explanation of what they wanted to address on Wednesday. That’s two days before the council agenda would come out.
Once council made a decision on an issue, Gleeson proposes, residents wouldn’t be able to come to council as a delegation to voice concerns unless council agreed to reconsider the decision.
Former town councillor, Joel Campbell pointed out that would make it virtually impossible for any resident to have a chance to speak publicly about their concerns before a decision was made.
He added the plan is so complex with 17 items being considered, council should consider each separately and hold recorded votes on each idea.
“Essentially, everyone of these motions does something to take some opportunities from the members of the public to come, out of a heartfelt desire, to ask honest questions of council and that is not what we should be about in 2018 in a democratic society,” he says.

Council discusses the motion March 12. For more on this story, pick up your copy of The Independent at stores across Central Lambton including Heidi’s Independent, Three Maples Variety in Alvinston or 21 Shell.