STELLARTON – A suggestion by Coun. Denise Taylor that Stellarton establish a list of steps and a timeline for choosing which of four options the town should go with for policing sparked a heated debate about how much public input should be allowed in the process.
“I think it might help all those involved in the process of knowing what the steps are and the timelines are,” Taylor said. “Even when we do make our own decision which way we want to go with, we have the union to deal with and the Department of Justice to deal with for approvals.”
The Town of Stellarton is investigating different forms of policing because of some ongoing issues within the department and because of the rising cost of policing, said Coun. George Megeney, chair of the committee looking into it. The four options are status quo, a joint force between Westville and Stellarton, New Glasgow Police or the RCMP.
Taylor said they should have a public meeting to let the public have their say before a decision is made.
Mayor Joe Gennoe expressed concern about the logistics of holding a public meeting, however.
“Where would you hold it? The new Wellness Centre wouldn’t hold it. You could have 3,000 or 4,000 people there.”
He suggested something the size of a ball field would need to be used and said there would be a lot of people on different sides of the issue who would be self-centred and focused only on what was best for them. Council was elected to make decisions like this and that’s what he’d do, he said.
“I’m an elected official and I’m going to vote what’s best for Stellarton and I’m not scared to vote that way.”
Taylor was quick to dismiss the likelihood of 3,000 to 4,000 people showing up for a public meeting.
“Whatever decision we come forward with we need to engage the public and we need to engage our community,” she said. “I think they need to have an opportunity to have their say. They need to have the opportunity to understand how we arrived at the decision we think we’ve arrived at and how we’re going to move forward.”
She pointed to Trenton as an example of a town that held a public meeting before contracting out their policing service to New Glasgow.
Megeney said that at some point before they make their final decision he would like the four proposals they’re choosing from made public. He said he didn’t know what the best way to do that would be though.
Councillors Judith MacLellan and Ken Francis also voiced support for a public meeting. “Being elected it is incumbent on me to hear the voices of the people who elected me,” Francis said. “It’s going to be one of the biggest decisions we make during our tenure. I also feel that it’s important we show the public we are really struggling with the issue of what way to go and what’s the best decision we should be going with.”
As for the steps and timelines, Megeney said they’re just waiting for one more major piece of information dealing with pensions before they have all the information they need to make a decision.
“Hopefully we can do all this by the end of March,” he said.
During the public forum, Fred Vienneau and Lisa Hayden both expressed their opinions that more public input should be allowed.