Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A rough launch for the new Council

Since Prince Rupert voters went to the polls in November, the new Mayor and his Council have met on eight occasions in order to conduct the City's business.

A list of gatherings that includes two regularly scheduled public sessions, three special open sessions, one Community Public Hearing and two closed sessions, the latter one a bit of a surprise called at the most recent session of Monday evening.

Of the five open sessions, the first was the introduction to the new council and Mayor,  with Council also moving forward through December on arrangements with Exxon/Mobil regarding the proposed LNG terminal project for Tuck Inlet.

The mid December sessions were for the most part required for the Public Hearing related to move the  Lot 444 process further ahead, as well as to deliver increases in fees to the Recreation Centre and address issues related to the landfill site before the new year started.

Last Monday, the Mayor and Council members met for their second regularly scheduled public session. The first of the New Year and the start of the new schedule for 2015, highlighting the month long break between much of the city's business.

And from that lengthy respite from the work load, a few issues related to record keeping and Council procedures appear to have popped up.

As we outlined on the blog last week, Councillor Thorkelson raised a number of concerns related to the minutes from each of the three previous council sessions as well as from the Public Hearing, with Council accepting her recommendation to send them back to staff to be fixed.

As well during that Monday session, it appeared that at times Council wasn't particularly sure of the Agenda process, with the Mayor at one point seeking to end the meeting half way through the proceedings and go into a closed session before all of the scheduled items had been addressed.

It's at this point that one might wonder if City Staff is providing enough guidance to the newest council members in these early days.

So far, if the first few weeks are any indication, staff during these public sessions for the most part appear to be sitting back a bit, when perhaps a bit of advice is required.

Or at the least, a gentle nudge in the right direction from time to time for the elected officials.

That way the rather scrambled ending to the most recent Council session perhaps wouldn't have come to pass.

The waning moments of last weeks' session brought us the surprise announcement that Council would be heading into a closed session, without providing any kind of prior notification as to what the topic for discussion might be about, or the usual brief outline to the subject matter to be discussed in camera.

If the media release from Friday is the full account of that closed session, Council at that time gave approval to the idea of joining the Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance, which may be a beneficial move for the City, but one which surely also needs to be discussed in a public forum, as opposed to behind the closed doors of the Council chambers.

If nothing else, one imagines that Council should have made their announcement during the January 26th session, allowing for those members of City Council so inclined the opportunity to outline their thoughts on the proposed alliance membership.

Considering the theme of transparency and accountability that many of this Council proclaimed their devotion towards during the election campaign, these first few weeks suggest that at the moment they aren't walking that particular walk.

Most in the community we imagine will give Council a mulligan on the mechanics of a Council session, the minutes, the process, all of it a learning curve that we hope they catch up with sooner rather than later.

However, for a group that made much commentary about wanting a Council more engaged with the public. One that would be more transparent and accountable,  there would seem to be some work to do.

At the moment, Council it would seem is still in its toddler stage, hopping on that bike and looking to wheel down the street, wobbling away from side to side as they go.

Hopefully as they grow in confidence to their tasks, they will catch their balance, becoming a little more sure handed of their handling of the city's business and remembering some of the key elements of the election campaign of November.

However, if the first six weeks in any indication, someone might want to tighten up the training wheels a bit.

For more items related to developments at Prince Rupert City Council see our archive page here.

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