By Dean Midyette
We have already had a number of controversial public hearings this year and there are certainly more to come. Criticism has been aimed at elected officials in advance of these public hearings, anger that is misplaced and misdirected. This week I will use this space to explain the hows and whys of public hearings.
Public hearings are commonly scheduled when a new bylaw or amendment to a bylaw is being considered, or when a rezoning application has been put before a council.
The first step in the process of dealing with bylaws or rezoning is for council to consider them through discussion during first and second readings. At this point, the council may reject the bylaw or rezoning application, ask for changes, or vote to move the discussion to a public hearing by passing first and second readings. The passing of first and second readings is never an indication that elected officials are in favour of the motion. It is only an indication that elected officials wish to get input from the public.
At the public hearing, the public is allowed to make verbal comments or to supply written comments. The elected officials are there only to listen. By rule, they cannot answer questions or make any comments. The public hearing is the only time that comments from the public can be formally considered. Once the public hearing comes to a close, the elected officials are legally barred from considering any additional information or from commenting on the matter before them.
Shortly after the public hearing, the bylaw or rezoning application goes to third reading. By rule, there is no discussion, only a vote in favour or against.
It is important for elected officials to get input before making these decisions. Passing first and second readings enables the council to schedule a public hearing where they get to hear from you.
Public hearings are the elected officials way of giving people a voice in decision making.
They are never an endorsement of the issue being discussed.