Procedural bylaw discussed with lingering concerns from the public

(Gazette file photo)

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

The draft procedural bylaw was brought before council for consideration following a lengthy discussion at the January 26th Regular Council Meeting. The discussion garnered attention from several members of the public who were vehemently opposed to some changes.

Specifically, Amy Bodman and Paula Peel shared concern that the new draft procedural bylaw lacked transparency. The thrust of Bodman’s argument was that the new bylaw is unnecessarily restrictive. In particular, she took issue with the following paragraph in the bylaw:

“Deputation are not permitted to address Council, local board or committee on a matter upon which Council has already decided the matter within the previous twelve months, unless Council has decided to reconsider the matter.”

Bodman suggested, instead, that the matters for reconsideration could come before local boards or committees even if they had been decided upon in the last 12 months.

Her revision read:

“Deputations are not permitted to address Council on a matter upon which Council has already decided the matter within the previous twelve months, unless Council has decided to reconsider the matter.”

Bodman argued the revision to the bylaw threatens council’s ability to adequately represent the public.

“Extending the restriction to all meetings of council, local boards and committees significantly changes the breadth of public engagement allowed by our existing procedural bylaw and could also dangerously limit council’s ability to represent the public on matters that needs to be heard and debated for the benefit of the municipality. In essence, this revision cuts the public out from the reconsideration process. We believe this is not a good idea,” argued Bodman.

Bodman further stated the way the draft procedural bylaw is written puts undue strain on members of the public who wish to have issues reconsidered.

“With this restriction, the only way the public can bring up a matter to be reconsidered will be to contact a councillor who voted in favour of the original decision and try to convince them to reverse their point of view,” she said. “Also, without required recorded votes…how is a person to know which councillor to approach?”

Bodman also expressed concern about the ability for succeeding councils to revisit decisions made in the previous twelve months during the last term of council.

“In the event of a new council….new council may well have been voted in to change direction of governance, a change of mandate which may involve reversing decisions made by an outgoing council,” she said. “Restricting the public’s ability to argue against a decision made by the previous council restricts democracy and could negatively impact effectiveness of council.”

Bodman also presented a deputation on behalf of Peel.

Peel expressed concern regarding the timing of release of documentation pertaining to upcoming agendas. She argued the documentation should be released five days prior to release of the agenda, which is currently released three business days prior to a council meeting.

The documentation referred to by Peel would include both staff reports and other accompanying documents.

“The problem is three days does not allow enough time for the public to review documents and prepare a deputation,” argued Peel. “In fact, the public only has two days to do this since the meeting falls on the third day.”

Arguing there’s no reason to have a three day rule to release documents, Peel pointed to the Town of Cobourg, that releases their supporting documents ten days prior to a meeting.

Councillor John Hirsch. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

The clerk described the provision decried by Bodman as a tool to be used to ensure council “isn’t hearing deputations over and over again on the same topic.”

Councillor Hirsch agreed that while repetitive deputations are to be avoided, there is more room for discussion at the Committee of the Whole.

“We don’t want council to be subject to repetitive deputations, but at the committee level where there is more opportunity to discuss subjects, that would be possible. I think that’s a viable solution, unless the clerk has another suggestion for another way to deal with excessive repetition,” said Hirsch.

Ultimately, the clerk suggested deputations not be permitted to address council, a local board or committee on a matter that has been decided unless the matter is before council for a decision. This change was accepted by council.

With regards to publishing supporting documentation further in advance of any upcoming council meetings, CAO Marcia Wallace suggested doing so would be impractical for a council who meets so regularly. However, she suggested, more transparency about what is on upcoming agendas could be helpful.

“The problem is you meet so often. I think it’s a bad idea that you are at a meeting and the material for the next meeting is in the public already,” said Wallace. “That’s why we’re not in favour of this. It’s really just because your schedule is so full.”

Noting she shares with council what will be on any given agenda between six and eight weeks in advance, Wallace suggested making this conversation more transparent might alleviate the issue.

Many councillors opposed this idea, with Councillor Janice Maynard stating that providing the public with a broad overview of topics to be covered might not be helpful.

“Although there is maybe some benefit to having a rough outline of what may show up for future meetings, my concern is that it’s just a broad outline,” said Maynard.

Councillor Kate MacNaughton echoed Maynard’s sentiments, stating she believed the current process to be transparent as is.

A motion to share draft agenda forecast publicly failed.