Openness of Hudson council questioned
PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS
The Stephen F. Shaar Community Centre in Hudson, where public monthly council meetings were held before the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a move to an in-camera format, remains closed to the public (with the exception of emergency access during heat waves) while council deliberates in caucus whether or not to follow the example of other municipalities and return to an interactive democratic forum.
The August 3 meeting of the Hudson town council opened, as usual, with remarks from Mayor Jamie Nicholls. One such remark was an acknowledgement of the number of questions that have come in about the sustainability of Hudson’s water supply with the substantial new residential developments that are planned. In spite of a 20 per cent growth spurt on the horizon, Nicholls said he would “…like to reiterate that our new well will serve the new development coming down the pipeline.” He did agree that the question of the sustainability of the underground aquifer (which has demands from multiple municipalities) is pertinent and said he would look forward to having discussions on the subject with the Municipalité régionale de comté (MRC) de Vaudreuil-Soulanges and its members.
A question of openness
Questions for council were once again to be sent in writing in advance of the meeting, and the frustration of some citizens with the lack of interactivity or opportunity to ask follow-up questions is beginning to show.
Resident Eva McCartney sent in a question about District 1 Councillor Helen Kurgansky being the sole member to vote against the Sandy Beach subdivision at last month’s meeting, asking that she explain her reasons, and asking if the developer had agreed to council’s suggestion not to place sewer infrastructure beneath the flood zone. “It would be appreciated if the response was spoken or read from Councillor Kurgansky, as in a live meeting, not a prepared statement by the mayor,” wrote McCartney.
Mayor Nicholls responded, “I believe, though I can’t confirm, that the developer is amenable to not putting that infrastructure in the (designated flood zone or) ZIS,” and that he would have to follow up. As for Kurgansky giving a direct response, Nicholls said, “I believe Councillor Kurgansky made her position very clear,” and cited section 11.6 of By-Law 348 stating that the mayor holds the authority to grant the floor to councillors. In this case it wasn’t granted. Nicholls underscored that this rule of decorum was not to muzzle councillors, but to, “…promote unity amongst council” by averting heated or divisive debates at public meetings.
McCartney’s next question was to ask each councillor, given that there’s been no apparent movement towards returning to an interactive question period either live or online, whether they wanted to have an interactive question period with citizens.
Nicholls had stated at the opening of the meeting that council does not want to become a vector of transmission for COVID-19, and that the logistics of an in-person public meeting are not something that council wants to entertain. In contrast, other municipalities such as Saint-Lazare and Vaudreuil-Dorion have resumed live public meetings with mask and/or distancing protocols in place.
As for an interactive online scenario, Nicholls said there would be logistical challenges.
“I have to check with the will of council to see what their ideas for interactive question periods are. That’s a discussion that will happen in caucus, and if there’s a decision to go to interactive question periods, we will let you know.”
Motions approved by council included a combined $8,500 to sponsor studies to bolster by-Laws regarding migratory birds and the use of pesticides, the appointment of Director General Philip Toone as Hudson’s new representative for the Quebec Office de la langue française, a loan in the amount of $2,205,000 for paving work on Bellevue Road and the section of Main Road adjacent to the Oka Ferry as well as assorted sectional patches, and the temporary suspension of enforcement of the by-Law prohibiting mobile food trucks (provided they are from existing local restaurants on private commercial land) to allow restaurants, who have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, to have an alternate way to serve the public.
Council also approved the awarding of a contract for $1,800 to Info Suroît to communicate monthly council meeting decisions online, which so far includes a summary of key motions, but not of citizens’ questions or the responses to them. The requirement for the town to record questions and responses in writing, in light of the availability of video feeds on social media, was removed in a by-Law amendment in May of this year.