Andrea Rondeau column: Barnburners pack them in, otherwise, not so much

It always seems like the really exciting news happens just after our print deadline.

It always seems like the really exciting news happens just after our print deadline.

I know objectively this isn’t true, but it sure feels like it when the call goes out for a big fire, or a big decision is made by one of our governments an hour after we’ve wrapped up our Friday edition on Thursday afternoon. This means you won’t see it in print until the following Wednesday. We’ll have it on our website of course (www.cowichanvalleycitizen.com), but we still like to bring you the latest on the printed page, too, and nothing makes us grind our teeth like having to wait to put it to ink and paper.

Which is one of the reasons we weren’t exactly jumping for joy in the newsroom when North Cowichan made the decision last week to move their public hearings to Thursday evenings.

From our news perspective, this is less than ideal. But that’s not all that was driving my slight lack of enthusiasm for this new plan. I’ve been a journalist and editor for many years now and I’ve seen public hearings held with council meetings and separate, in the evenings. I’ve seen council meetings themselves held in the evenings. I can tell you, in my experience, evenings don’t mean any more members of the public making the trek to the council chamber to take part or listen in person than afternoons do.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an admirable idea and the impulse is genuine. Council wants to get more people involved, make sure people feel like they can access North Cowichan’s government and decision making process.

Even if councillors just find it easier to curb sometimes marathon council meetings by separating this particular business out, perhaps it’s worth it.

But over the years I’ve learned that if there is a barnburner of an issue, a controversial development, for example, council chambers will be packed to overflowing no matter what time of day they’re addressing the issue. And the rest of the time there will be only a few stragglers and municipal politics junkies and they’ll be there whenever council is in session. Often on the really controversial ones there are additional public meetings already held in evenings anyway.

So while North Cowichan council can try evening public hearings, I’m not betting the farm, to borrow an expression, on them packing in any more regular spectators.

Perhaps I will be proven incorrect, and this is the chance constituents have been waiting for. It’s not an unworthy experiment, at the least.

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