Owen Sound Town Halls

Improving Community Engagement

As we discovered last fall, during the All Candidates Meetings, open public forums stimulate meaningful discussions on the issues facing our city and are extremely beneficial in providing the community with accurate information on the city administration. I recall at least one candidate saying, during the All Candidates Meeting, that we should have such forums more often than once every four years. I am therefore requesting Council establish an informal, “Town Hall” type, meeting to replace one Council meeting each month.

Open public forums, structured as informal discussion sessions with elected officials, will provide members of Council with an opportunity to dispel misinformation about city issues and provide the public with an opportunity to ask questions on the issues that they find are important. However, the most important benefit of holding regular “Town Hall” type meeting is that it will allow Council to remain connected to the community as a whole so each member of Council maintains a current understanding of the issues facing the community extends beyond the vocal special interest groups that regularly present during regular Council meetings.

Suggested Configuration for Informal Community Discussion Forums

I suggest that the room in the Bayshore Community Centre that was used for the All Candidates Meeting be used as a venue for these meetings. In order to stimulate meaningful discussion it is important to create a welcoming, stress-free environment that will encourage, even the most timid among us to participate. In this regard meetings should not be recorded for broadcast and the seating arranged in a fashion more resembling a large family living room gathering than an auditorium. Judging from attendance at the All Candidates Meetings, these meetings are not likely to attract more than 30 participants at any one meeting which will facilitate an informal environment.

Informal yet Structured Format

As we’ve observed in the past at regularly scheduled Council meetings some topics can elicit emotional responses and residents can be very passionate about an issue that concerns them. Therefore I suggest that each meeting commence with a short presentation (5 mins max) by a member of Council on the topic of the day. The councilor making the presentation should rotate monthly to give the public equal visibility to all members of Council over time.

All members of Council are also members of the community and therefore should be seated among the general public and should be encouraged to make statements or ask questions on topics that are important to them. This should discourage a “We vs Them” perception that is often present at Council meetings. The reality is that we are all in the same boat when it comes to city affairs since every member of council is either a resident or operates a business in Owen Sound.

Following the initial presentation members of the public should be invited to ask a question or make a statement on a topic that interests them. Topics should be limited to issues under city or county control. Issues that are the purview of the provincial or federal governments should not be permitted. Each question or statement should be limited to a single topic and should be limited to a maximum of two minutes. If desired, the resident can return for a second question or statement at a later time.

To respond to the question a member of Council, seated in the audience, should come to the microphone and deliver a response which should also limited to two minutes. The responses to the questions should rotate among the members of council present. This format will provide members of Council with equal exposure to the community.

Following the response from a member of Council, the resident can ask a single follow-up question which should be limited to one minute. This can then to be responded to by the member of Council if appropriate. This will limit the time for each interaction to a maximum of six minutes.

Impartial Volunteer Moderators

A moderator will be necessary to maintain order and prevent the meeting from being dominated by any resident or group of residents. The Moderator should have a mute button to silence responses that go beyond the time limits. The Moderator should be an unbiased volunteer who is not an elected official or a member of any special interest group. It is further suggested that moderators should be selected from a group of volunteer moderators on a rotational basis.


The Way Ahead

   Council needs to approve the conversion of one council meeting per month to a Community Engagement Meeting following an informal, yet structured, environment at the Bayshore Community Centre.

   Council needs to establish the rules for the public discussion sessions.

   Council should advertise for community volunteers to perform moderator duties.

  Council should then announce the creation, the location and purpose of the Community Engagement Meetings along with the rules for participation.


Note:  I have already noticed some resistance to the idea of regularly scheduled, open discussion meetings with the community.  If you agree that we need more opportunities to have a meaningful dialog with our members of Council then call, write or text the members of Council and let them know that this is something the community needs to improve community engagement and transparency. It won’t happen without your input.


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1 comment on 1 page
What a great idea. The council meetings don’t allow for any real discussion. I hope that there will be at least five members of council that listen to you.  
Helen Bronson

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