By Stephen Vance, Editor
Three years ago The Meaford Independent published an editorial warning residents that the very first bylaw to come before the newly elected council was to be a revised procedural bylaw which would have stripped public questions from Meaford council meetings.
Many members of the soon-to-be-sworn-in Council said at the time that they had been bombarded with email and phone calls in protest of the proposed changes, and in particular to the proposed removal of public questions from council meetings.
Thanks to a last-minute request by Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield after the new council had been sworn in on the opera house stage at Meaford Hall, the revised bylaw was amended while those in attendance looked on, and public questions at council meetings were saved – though restricted to just four questions at any council meeting.
With councillors heading into the final year of their four year term, Meaford’s senior staff have reviewed the bylaw implemented in 2010, and they proposed a laundry list of changes for Council to approve, and this time, the focus of many of the changes are to give more opportunities for Meaford residents to attend council meetings, and to have a voice at those meetings.
That’s what you call progress.
Among the changes to which Council has given initial approval are a removal of the four-question limit as well as the often disregarded requirement that any questions asked by the public pertain to items on the agenda for that particular meeting, earlier publication of meeting agendas, an earlier start for regular council meetings – the reason given by Meaford’s Clerk was a hope of increased public attendance at meetings, and – particularly welcomed by us media types – no meetings will be held in August.
There are many more changes coming to the procedural bylaw, most dealing with technicalities, but it was refreshing to hear from the municipal Clerk that one of the goals is to increase attendance and participation by residents – after all, it is our council, isn’t it?
2014 is looking to be a positive year for Meaford residents, municipal staff, and councillors alike. Four years of hefty tax increases, four years of crumbling infrastructure due to lack of funds, and too many years tied up in legal action against Meaford property owners are about to fade away in the rear view mirror, and what is ahead of us are drastically increased infrastructure projects, money in the municipal coffers, a major reduction in long-term debt over the next five years, a municipal staff making attempts to better engage, inform, and empower the residents they are paid to serve, and once again for us media types, a municipal election to cover.
This term of council has been a painful one indeed, so it is nice to finally see residents and ratepayers reaping some rewards.
Does that mean we have no more problems? No.
Meaford has many challenges ahead, not the least of which is to find a way to improve the relationship between the municipal administration office and Council with our rural residents. Our rural residents deserve to reap some rewards as well, but that won’t happen until some serious public meetings are held in which rural residents can express their frustrations in an atmosphere of respect and understanding. Of course that won’t happen unless our rural residents are willing to be equally respectful and understanding, and committed to working together to find solutions. I am confident that rural residents would love nothing more than some respectful discussion and debate, and whether it is this council or the next, at some point that olive branch needs to be extended.
Nobody can deny, however, that in spite of our outstanding issues, the news and initiatives coming from the council chamber and administration office in recent months is a refreshing change from the previous three years.
Put on the sunglasses, folks, because Meaford’s future is looking brighter every day.