Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Procedural concerns make for lengthy discussion at Monday's council session

For the second City Council session in a row, an attempt from the Mayor to seemingly move the proceedings along at a faster pace found some opposition from Council members.

Monday night's Council session started with the surprise announcement that the Council of the Whole Session, was to be cancelled for the evening, with the Mayor explaining that he was looking to try something new in the future to engage the public with Council.

The Council of the Whole process, which is normally in place once a month, in the past has provided for residents the opportunity to ask questions of Council regarding issues that they have concerns about.

The Mayor, citing his interpretation of Council procedures suggested that since no one had expressed an interest prior to the meeting to speak to Council, then Council could move forward without the need for that Committee of the Whole engagement.

It was an announcement that Councillor Thorkelson took some exception to later in the evening, outlining her thoughts on the Mayor's decision to change the procedures that have been in place since before her arrival on Council in 2005.

In particular, she was concerned about the surprise nature of the decision to change the procedures and expressed the belief that it was an issue that Council should discuss before such moves are put in motion.

Councillor Cunningham also offered up his thoughts on the Council of the Whole meeting, suggesting that it offers up a good opportunity for Council to hear from the Community and is not something that they should quickly discard.

Adding that it could complement the Mayor's still to be developed plans for more Civic engagement, earlier in the evening the Mayor had once again floated the concept of monthly Town Hall like meetings for the Civic Centre at some point in the future.

Mayor Lee Brain during course
of Procedural discussions Monday night
The Committee of the Whole controversy seemed to come to an end after the Mayor had reviewed some of the procedures by way of his smart phone, suggesting that he perhaps may have mis-interpreted the process that is currently in place.

Beyond the Committee of the Whole issue, Councillor Thorkelson also expressed concerns over the Mayor's approach to the changing of the Council Agenda, looking for the opportunity for all Council members to share their opinions on any procedural changes that may be considered.

In particular she had concerns over how the Mayor was approaching the segment of Council where Council members are allowed to raise issues, make comments and offer observations.  Suggesting that the Mayor's proposal of Council members having to advise to their intentions at the start of Council, expressing the thought that it would be a duplication of efforts.

The lengthy discussion for the most part involved only three members of Council, with Councillors Cunningham, Thorkelson and the Mayor providing for all of the back and forth on the issue.

None of the three newcomers to office, Councillors Niesh, Mirau and Randhawa, nor incumbent Nelson Kinney offered any comment to the procedural debate of Monday night

As the topic finally exhausted itself, the main takeaway would seem to have been that the topic of change to any procedural issues would best be discussed as part of Strategic planning sessions, though Councillor Thorkelson did add that any moves to change a portion of Council business that involves public participation should be discussed in public sessions.

A larger overview of the procedural discussions can be found on our City Council Timeline page.

For a review of the exchanges between the Mayor and Councillors Cunningham and Thorkelson see the City's Video Archive, the lengthy back and forth starts at the one hour thirty one minute mark and continues on until the end of the Council session at one hour fifty five minutes

Monday's controversy was not the first time this session where Councillor Thorkelson has raised issues of procedure, at the January 12th session she raised concerns over the Mayor's attempt to secure a blanket adoption of all of the previous minutes for December.

As we outlined on the blog on January 14th, at that time Councillor Thorkelson pointed out a number of errors to the minutes and counselled the Council members to address each of those minutes on an individual basis, sending some back to staff for clarification and to address the errors.

The rocky start to Council for January seems to suggest that there might be a need to go over the process that Council will use as a template moving forward with their Council sessions.

The ongoing confusion over process and mis-steps of recent weeks, is making for a City Council that appears to be creating more problems than it needs to take on in these early days.

Until they get a better handle on their day to day planning for the simple mechanics of a Council meeting and other related items, it may be a wise strategy to slow down the pace of some of their other initiatives, such as the string of Committees that they have recently formed.

Otherwise, the very real problem of getting overwhelmed by their self created workload could pose larger problems for Council solidarity.

For more items related to City Council Discussions see our Archive page here.

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