North Cowichan councillor Maeve Maguire wants to assure the public and developers that all proposed developments in the municipality are treated equally by council.
Maguire put forth a successful motion at a recent council meeting that will see staff prepare a draft policy on councillors holding private meetings with developers, and other interested parties, before public hearings are held on development applications.
Maguire said that some developers are more known to council members than others, and she’s concerned that the familiarity could lead to the perception that some of them might wield more influence on councillors during private meetings before public hearings to discuss and consider development proposals.
“I’m not saying that this happens, but the appearance of influence on councillors is what I’m concerned about,” Maguire said.
“I’m afraid the public will trust us less as a result, and that’s why I put forward this motion. I would like to see all councillors on the same page with this and agree to a policy on meeting developers before public hearings that will be used every time we go through this process.”
Mayor Jon Lefebure said the Community Charter generally lays out the roles councillors and mayors have in considering development proposals, but he supports Maguire’s efforts to have North Cowichan look at the issue more closely.
He said most developers would like the council’s “ears and influence” on their proposed projects if they can, but the principles of the Community Charter call for public discussions as part of the decision-making process as much as possible.
“That’s because it’s easier for people to understand why councils come up with their decisions on these issues if discussions are in public,” Lefebure said.
“But it’s harder for the public to understand if these discussions are held in private.”
Lefebure said he expects North Cowichan’s staff will have to consider when it’s appropriate for developers to talk in private with council members about their proposals.
He said staff may consider including in their draft policy that developers can meet and talk privately to any member of council before they submit their application for a development to the municipality, but may not meet privately with council members after that.
“But it’s ultimately up to staff to come up with the draft policy, which I expect will be tabled sometime early in the new year.”