Proposed Procedural Bylaw Changes

Council is considering changes to it’s Procedural Bylaw that could increase the power of small groups of Council and the Staff. The most concerning impact is that the public and media will only have three days of meaningful notice for an increased number of recommendations before they are voted on by Council. Under clause 7(h) recommendations from sub-committees can choose to report directly to Council or Committee of the Whole.

Unless a member of the public, media or Council goes to the sub-committee meetings it would not be clear what is being discussed and being recommended. For most people the first time a proposal would be known is when it shows up on Council’s agenda, three days before at a formal Council meeting. Three days is not enough time to find out about the issue let alone, provide comment.

It is a step back from the public notification and accountability currently in place. The norm is that most items come to Committee of the Whole before going to Council giving a minimum of 10 days for questioning and comment. Committee of the Whole has the added advantage of discussions being more informal facilitating problem solving and workable compromises.

The question was asked: Does Council have to debate everything again when a committee has already spent hours on it?

The answer is an unequivocal YES. It is Council’s duty to question, discuss and vote on all policy. Also, the openness of these meetings is the main way that Municipal business is transparent and accountable. It is not sufficient to say we should support a recommendation because the committee has discussed it at length. That would be like believing the used car salesman who says “trust me, it was only driven to church by an elderly lady”. We and the public should have time to go over the records and take the recommendation for a test drive before the vote.

The job of committees is to make a recommendation with rational that helps Council and the public understand an issue and form an educated opinion on the recommendation. Without that rational and the possibility of debate there is no transparency, no accountability.

It has been said that only items which are not controversial will be referred directly to Council. If an item is truly non-controversial then it will go through Committee of the Whole with no comments and the same report can be used for Council so there is no extra work for staff.

It is very difficult to gage whether a recommendation is controversial or not without putting it out for public comment. It is possible that the three committee members and staff may not have taken into account everything that needs to be thought of about on a certain issue. There at 20,000 residents in the Township, many with different valid and often conflicting opinions, many of these are represented on Council. This is a matter of transparency and of allowing everyone, including those with minority opinions, a chance to have a meaningful say.

All Committee recommendations and reports should come before the Committee of the Whole before going to Council. This will allow for full debate, create better policy, improve transparency, and allow the public a better chance to be engaged.

Clause 7(h) needs to be changed and the time for committee of the whole meetings increased. The proposed bylaw also decreases the number of Committee of the Whole meetings from two to one a month.

About Ross Sutherland

nurse, researcher, public health care activist, councillor South Frontenac Township
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