Petrolia residents question council openness as mayor seeks to limit public input

Residents peer through the doors of the Petrolia Council chambers during a divisive meeting where citizens demanded to know more about the then CAO's actions in 2017.

Suggestions to change the way The Town of Petrolia runs its council meeting are being questioned.

Mayor Brad Loosley is asking for the procedural bylaw governing how the meetings are run, be changed. Loosley’s suggestions include:

  • removing one of two opportunities for the public to speak to council without notice
  • if a delegation wants council to take action on any item, they have to send a letter seven days before the council meeting
  • that people appearing as delegation will have to be approved through a motion of council
  • would get rid of the August council meeting unless the mayor felt there was business which needed to be completed
  • would only allow electronic meeting participation in the case of an emergency which would be decided by the mayor
  • and that council “shall not” make an immediate decision on anything brought by a delegation to council.

This is not the first time council considered changing the amount and way residents interact with council. In Feb. 2018, in the wake of the dismissal of the chief operating officer of the town, council discussed eliminating the opportunity for public questions. Petrolia resident Norm Sutherland was one of many opposed to the move.

Friday, he wrote to the mayor and administrators voicing his opposition to Loosley’s proposed changes. “I approached council previously re my  concern about reduced meetings. We were promised “openers and transparency” by this council. These two items totally negate what was promised and what is required for effective government,” he says in the email.

In a social media post, former town councillor, Liz Welsh, also spoke against the ideas.

“Council policy and procedures are not about the mayor’s wishes. Being a councillor is about representing the residents of Petrolia in the most open and transparent way possible and making it easier for them to engage.

“You are effectively creating a barrier to participation…Municipal government is the closest tier (of government) to the citizens and belongs to the citizens.”

Welsh is also concerned there will now have to be a motion of council to agree to hear people as delegations.

“If councillors decide they do not want to hear from a particular resident our about a particular topic, they can simply not move to allow it…councillors do not get to chose who is permitted to have their voices heard.”

Council will discuss the ideas at Monday night’s virtual council meeting.