The District of Lantzville will re-examine a proposed policy regarding committees after concerns were raised by a number of councillors on Monday.
The draft document is an updated framework for how District of Lantzville committees should function. It provides rules and guidelines on a range of topics including appointments, voting, procedures, conflict of interest, reporting and staff support.
However, councillors were concerned about a portion of the policy that forbids individual committee members from expressing their personal views or opinions about the activities of their committee on social media or mainstream media.
Coun. John Coulson called that section of the policy “beyond troubling” and questioned whether it was even legal for the district to place such restrictions on committee members.
“It’s censorship,” he said, adding that some members of the public might view that section of the policy as an attempt to muzzle or silence critics.
Ronald Campbell explained that should a committee member agree or disagree with something done by the committee that they’re part of, it isn’t proper to speak out against it.
“The process is to go through the committee and handle committee business in the committee itself,” he said. “If all members committees started debating publicly the merits or lack thereof of committees it would be a very difficult situation.”
Campbell said if committee members don’t feel comfortable with how things are being done, they can leave the committee and voice their concerns.
Coun. Denise Haime called the section the “biggest hypocrisy” she had ever seen, explaining that councillors have the right to express their opinions and so should committee members.
“The district lawyer has also confirmed to us that the residents and council members have a right to express opinions that are different from council or committee members,” she said.
Coun. Dot Neary said the wording is problematic. She said she has no issue with a committee member posting their personal view, but is concerned about the possibility of a committee member publicly sharing the procedures and processes of a committee.
“There is a really fine line between conveying what is a personal opinion and reporting your opinion as facts,” she said. “I think … our residents, our taxpayers, within this community can read a certain perspective and take it as fact when it is actually a personal opinion of a committee member.”
She said unless council approves recommendations made by a committee, it is still the business of the committee and is not complete.
“So to comment on that before it has actually been approved or supported by council puts it in that really grey area of … fact versus supposition or speculation,” Neary said.
Coun. Mark Swain said there is a clause in the policy that would allow councillors to remove a committee member. He said no one is policing what councillors post on social media, therefore it isn’t fair for councillors to impose restrictions on committee members.
“How can we impose a special set of rules on committee members who are basically volunteers? … it is just not acceptable,” Swain said.
In the end councillors voted in favour of having staff remove the section prohibiting committee members from providing their opinion on social media or to the mainstream media. Councillors also voted in favour of referring the policy back to staff.