Some members of Kentville’s council advisory committee wondered Nov. 21 what the town could do to get more bums in seats at council meetings?
The conversation started with a report from an administration conference and the idea that better advertising could bring in more bodies.
Rarely is there an audience member at town council chambers, unless they are invited to give a presentation, receive an award or there is an agenda item specifically impacting their property or business.
To the best of our knowledge, chambers haven’t been packed with interested observers since the 2009 debate over the implementation of a deed transfer tax.
There are technology-based ways of keeping up with Kentville matters. Meeting agendas and minutes for both regular monthly council meetings and council advisory committee meetings are posted on the town’s website – as are notices of public meetings and hearings – but they aren’t always easy to find. The full agenda package is not posted to the website.
During discussion, Deputy Mayor Mark Pearl suggested live streaming council meetings on the town’s website might get more people engaged in municipal government.
As council recently adopted a policy allowing participation by video chat, town hall should have the necessary technology. Halifax Regional Municipality meetings are broadcast by website haligonia.ca and Eastlink TV.
“I think council works at its best when we have people in chambers to watch council in action,” Pearl said.
Just about any municipal watcher would agree council behaviour changes depending on who’s watching. The presence of even one audience member can make both councillors and staff sit up a little straighter.
Perhaps having citizens show up serves as a reminder to elected representatives and their employees who, exactly, they are making decisions on behalf of.
What Kentville needs to do is present a clear case for why residents would like to give up an evening a month to watch a meeting.
The Oct. 20 election was a missed opportunity to increase interest in town government.
With only one non-incumbent running and no public forums or debates, no “meet the candidates” nights – and no race for the mayor’s seat – there were fewer chances to communicate what it is council does and what the key issues are. Only 35.2 per cent of voters cast a ballot and all incumbents were re-elected.
Town budgets are tight and there is little room for grand, eye-catching projects on the municipal spreadsheet. However, there is the former KCA property to be developed or disposed of, along with the perennial decisions about roads, sewers, water and tax rates to be discussed. These are issues the affect the day-to-day life of people who live and work in Kentville.
When a story on Kentville council runs in the Advertiser or Register or online, the website statistics and the letters to the editor pile suggests residents do care what’s going on at town hall.
Perhaps those readers should let Kentville councillors know what it would take to get them into council chambers.