A town hall meeting tonight (Thursday) is the latest move by a group of Wellesley residents with questions for council about the budget process.
The event organized by Wellesley Township Concerned Citizens of is at the St. Clements Community Centre at 7 p.m.
The group’s Kelly Rakowski invited Wellesley council members to attend the meeting, with township clerk Grace Kosch responding that provincial rules prohibit a majority of councillors from attending.
“While it would be permissible for one or two members of council to attend this meeting since quorum would then not be present, their attendance creates a difficult position for them as individuals due to the nature of the meeting relating directly to township business. As a result, council members were consulted and no members will be attending,” Kosch wrote in reply.
Rakowski said the group will continue with the meeting even though none of the councillors will be present.
She and the group decided to organize the town hall for four main reasons.
“So the first one is to show the council that we want an open dialogue and that this is how as residents we see transparency. Number two, we want that all residents should have a say in how our town is operated. We should all have a chance to voice our concerns and be heard. We should all be concerned about how decisions made affect our neighbors.
“Number three, we hope that this meeting on Thursday and then quarterly meetings going forward in an informal setting where council and residents can come together to talk about concerns, future plans and ideas. And the fourth one is we hope to, going forward, establish this and future town halls as a working meeting.”
By working meeting, Rakowski means, “If residents have something that they would like to draw council’s attention to, [like] a sidewalk issue or playground issue, they can approach town council as a group, without feeling that they have to be a delegate. A lot of people are hesitant to come forward as a delegate, so this would give them a chance to work with council. And also if council has an idea, something that they would like to do in the future… then they can get the residents’ feedback.”
Kosch noted in a release this week that formal town hall meetings can only be called by council, and must follow procedures set out by the Municipal Act, including the recording of minutes.
Rakowski says the group was originally hoping the town hall meetings could be held on a quarterly basis. The event was planned to be informal, with no minutes taken and not recorded.
Rakowski said attendees were supposed to submit their questions ahead of time, and that they would be asked by a moderator on their behalf, with minimal interjections allowed from the audience.
“So this way, this is how it’s not going to become an attack on the council. We’re trying to eliminate a lot of interjections from the audience when they may be upset or angry. We’re going to try not to allow a lot of interjections. We want these to be civil, friendly, working meetings.”
Rakowski says the point of the meeting was to give council a chance to tell residents directly what they’re discussing and currently working on in an informal setting before the decisions are set in stone.
“This will open the door for more transparency and will be more of an opportunity to learn about things in person,” she said.
She said another important aspect of the informal event was to give residents a chance to speak with councillors in an informal setting without being intimidated by the typical council meeting format where residents are required to register as delegates and are timed when they speak.
“A lot of people, when they’re nervous, they don’t want to get up and be recorded for YouTube. It’s just an intimidating situation where you’re standing there in front of council at an official council meeting. So if this was informal, like a town meeting, it’s a lot easier to come forward and talk about good or bad,” she said.
Rakowski rented the hall through the township’s booking system. She says she’s hoping the township will reimburse her for the charge, otherwise she is asking those attending to bring $2 to help cover the cost of the rental.
Questions residents have already submitted for discussion include future tax increases and whether they will be compounded on top of this year’s tax increase, questions about communication, about the changing costs of the recreation centre, questions about plans for the current arena, questions about cost of maintaining the new rec centre and future plans to improve communication, among others.
In her release, Kosch said, “Residents have the ability to write to council and to delegate at an open, transparent public meeting, and that needs to remain the avenue for providing input. The township also encourages residents to reach out to the mayor and chief administrative officer for a small group question-and-answer session.”
Rakowski purposefully did not invite staff to the event. “We just feel that since each councilman or councilwoman represents their ward, this is a ward and a resident issue. It’s not a staff issue.”
“We as residents are just trying to get a better handle on what is going on within our own township,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a working relationship. Staff work for council, council work for residents and residents feel that we haven’t really had a lot of say.”
In a statement, Kosch said, “While we cannot speak to this meeting specifically, in general council is encouraged by indications of increased interest and participation in local government.”