Coun. Colin Plant tweeted that there was no public in attendance by the end of the public hearing in Saanich on Tuesday evening. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Coun. Colin Plant tweeted that there was no public in attendance by the end of the public hearing in Saanich on Tuesday evening. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Saanich council giggles through public-less public hearing

By the third item at Monday’s public hearing, council and staff were alone in chambers

“Do you hold a public hearing if no public is there?” asked Saanich Coun. Colin Plant on Twitter on Tuesday evening. As it turns out, the meeting proceeds as though there is an audience.

The Aug. 13 public hearing had three items on the agenda and according to Plant, by the time number three was on the floor, there was no one left in the audience.

The third agenda item focused on the rezoning of several park properties in the District. After staff spoke on the matter and councillors asked clarifying questions, Mayor Fred Haynes proceed with the public hearing format.

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Haynes joked about the lack of audience members before formally offering members of the public the opportunity to come forward and address the matter at hand. He explained the public hearing process to the empty gallery. Immediately after, he made a second and third call for public comments.

“Members of the public, we know you’re out there. If you’d like to come forward to address the matter on the floor to council, please give your name, your address and you have five minutes,” said Haynes while councillors giggled.

Haynes then closed the matter to the public. The councillors all voted to approve the motion and the meeting was adjourned.

Plant said that in over four years in local politics, he’s never been to a public hearing where there was no one in the gallery. Tuesday’s meeting started with about 50 residents in the gallery and by the time the second item was on the floor, there were only three people remaining and those folks left before the third item was introduced.

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Some public hearings will draw a crowd of over 100 people, said Plant, but it depends on the controversy of the items on the agenda.

He did note that the live web-casting of all council meetings may encourage residents to watch from home rather than physically attend.

“In my opinion Saanich has a very healthy level of engagement in decision-making,” said Plant. “I have come to learn that Saanich has a very significant focus on public engagement and that our residents are engaged and their input is valued.”