Council votes for fewer meetings
More committee work ahead as council passes new method of doing business
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013 06:00 am
City council will meet less often to accomplish more in less time starting this summer for a four-month trial period.
Starting in July, there will only be two council meetings per month instead of the three. In between the council meetings, two committees will sit – the community services policy committee and the internal services policy committee. The substantial work will now be done at the committee level instead of at council meetings.
Both of the new committees will replace council’s standing committee on finance, which would meet the one week council did not sit.
The recommendations come from a governance review that was started last year to see if there was a better way council could make decisions and interact with staff. Growing workloads, a lack of clarity over roles and responsibilities and restrictions on how council and staff could interact led to the review.
The city had been using a Carver model to conduct itself, where council focuses on policy and administration on operations. The city manager was supposed to be council’s only link to staff, with restrictions on councillors meeting individually with staff or even expressing praise to staff.
“The issue is (Carver) tends not to work very well in municipalities,” said Joyce Tustian, a consultant with Western Management Consultants, which the city hired to help with the review.
She instead recommended a CAO model, used by most Canadian cities, where the city manager is not the only point of contact. It gives councillors more flexibility in being able to interact with staff without the prior approval of council.
Tustian also talked about performing more work at the committee level, which will theoretically balance out the growing workload by dividing issues into more categories.
“This allows council members to specialize in a subject area, makes it easier to track referrals from council and committees and reduces the demand on administration to attend all meetings,” Tustian said.
Council will also move to streamline its own meetings by implementing a consent agenda. Basically, matters that have been already approved at the committee level that require no further debate will be lumped together and passed in one motion.
“Council would pass everything in one motion except for reports it wants to spend more time on,” Tustian said.
Councillors could also approve information requests from individual councillors. At present, a councillor can ask staff for any kind of information without the need of approval.
“Some municipalities do this because it tends to limit the number of information requests,” Tustian said.
The two new committees would be made up of three members of council and the mayor. Councillors sitting on one committee could attend meetings of the other committee, but would not have voting power. A tie vote at a committee meeting would send the issue to council for debate automatically.
The community services policy committee would focus on infrastructure, planning and engineering, economic development and community and protective services, while the internal services policy committee would deal with corporate, financial and sustainability services, as well as the city manager’s office.
While council passed the recommendations unanimously, some councillors said they were still skeptical and only approved the change because it was a trial.
“I’m worried,” said Heron. “I don’t know if I will support it (after four months), but I’m willing to give it a try.”
Council will review the trial period in September.