Should OPP committee be a little more open?


On the subject of the Ontario Provincial Police dialling in the last contact committee meeting, I see retired city cop David Mitchell was also unimpressed.

In a previous post, I suggested the OPP's use of the teleconference model at their August 26 meeting was bad optics in a community that is, quite frankly, still being sold on the idea of trading in the city police for an OPP badge.

It turns out it was not only bad optics, but bad audio as well, at least for Mitchell, who is losing his hearing.

The meeting format, with the committee seated at a table and the teleconference device at the centre, made it harder for Mitchell, a former police services board member, to catch what was being said, as he explains in a letter to the editor today.

“In fact, I saw reporter Mr. Ron Zajac go to the desk where the mayor usually sits when council is in session and place a recorder there. I wonder why? Perhaps he isn't hearing everything properly.”

For the record, that was a video camera microphone, which was used to catch some of the comments being said, as I was recording the proceedings at a little too great a distance to catch it on the mounted mike.

That isn't much help to Mr. Mitchell, of course, because another drawback of a teleconference, one I did not think of, is that you can't read everyone's lips.

Mitchell goes on to describe a conversation with a city staffer, who advised him to get one of the headsets provided in the council chamber for he hearing impaired.

“This sounds easy to do but I have been told in the past to keep my mouth shut when I enter the council chambers or any committee meetings,” Mitchell writes.

“Only the committee can speak. The public is not allowed to speak. The mayor has already demonstrated his disapproval. If you clap your hands to thank someone who has given a speech on information for those who are present at one of these meetings, he becomes upset.”

It's true Mayor David Henderson has often proven less patient than his predecessors with spontaneous expressions from the gallery. On the other hand, committee meetings are not as strict as regular meetings of council.

Many is the time someone sitting in the audience at a standing committee meeting has been asked to speak by a committee chairman. Usually it's someone connected to the subject at hand, who is providing information or an opinion.

The idea is to allow for a freer flow of discussion at the subcommittee level in order to hash things out before the full council meeting and vote.

It may be worth having a debate over whether the OPP contact committee should follow these looser guidelines, rather than the stricter full council norms.

It's not like a few questions or comments from the gallery would prolong things unnecessarily. So far, these contact committee meetings have zipped by with the speed of a cruiser with its lights on.

Regardless where the committee stands on the openness issue, the headsets for the hearing impaired are not a matter for argument. It is never out of order to request a headset.

And one hopes the headsets aren't out of order, either.