Monday, December 18, 2017

City Council to reduce number of public sessions for 2018

Prince Rupert Council lessens the
burdens of  public Council meetings for 2018,
having eliminated their September
& October meetings for the year ahead

(photo from City of PR Annual Report)

Following a trend that grew as this year moved forward, members of Prince Rupert City Council, a group which chose to cancel three regular public council meetings in 2017, have already decided how they will reduce the amount of times that they are required to attend Council sessions when they return to work in January.

Last week the City of Prince Rupert released the City council meeting schedule for 2018, charting the path for their required public sessions for civic governance for the year ahead.

The Council meetings will be front loaded for the first six months, when Council will meet twice a month and then shift to a light schedule over the summer period, becoming non existent for two months as we head towards the 2018 municipal elections of November.

From their new schedule, there will be no Public Council sessions held in September or October, the reason listed at the bottom of the notice in the weekly paper, stating without any further explanation, that they have been cancelled owing to the scheduled municipal elections of November.

So far the only notice for next year's reduced City Council
Schedule is a short notice that appeared in the back pages
of the Northern View.

As for further advisories as to their plans for a reduced workload plans for 2018, other than the placement of the ad in the Northern View, so far Council has not offered up any further information related to the change for the year ahead, or the reasoning behind the decision to skip two consecutive months of regular public sessions.

That despite their past eagerness to share for a wide range of information on other items they wish to make note of for the public through the range of different social media accounts the city and its politicians host, or the city's website.

It makes for a rather puzzling decision, and one that perhaps should require just a bit more information from the elected officials, providing a more thorough explanation as to why they seem to believe that they can't conduct public council meetings in a lead up period to an election.

The course of action that has been chosen by this 2017 version of City Council, isn't one that the previous City Council, led by then Mayor Jack Mussallem appeared to believe was necessary.

Mr. Mussallem's group of elected officials met 21 times in the election year of 2014 including two meetings per month in both September and October.  The new Council elected in November of 2014, also met in December, making for 22 Council sessions that year.

2018's coming schedule of seventeen meetings continues with the theme of significant reductions to the schedule since this current council collective took office in 2015, a period of time when they held 21 public council sessions in their first first year.

2016 saw Council reduce the public sessions by one, taking the count down to 20.

That scheduled count for meetings held firm for 2017, but as we've recounted through the year, Council cancelled both Regular and Committee of the whole sessions this year, often with little in the way of explanation along the way.

As this year draws to a close, Prince Rupert Council has met in regular session eighteen times this year, at times holding to the original regular schedule, or in other instances, meeting in a make up session called on short notice.

When you look around the Northwest, the time that Prince Rupert Council spends in the public view while in session, is certainly on the low end compared to other communities.

By comparison, Kitimat council hosted 24 regularly scheduled public sessions in 2017.

Smithers Council hosted 22 public sessions.

While Terrace Council members had a regular public schedule of 25 sessions.

And when it comes to an election year, a look back to 2014 shows that none of those communities felt the need to stop holding any sessions in the lead up period to that years municipal election, where the process of municipal government continued on as usual, in some cases even twice a month prior to election day.

Along with the rather limited amount of notice from Prince Rupert City Council when it comes to their 2018 plans, there has also been a lack of public discussion about it in any of the public council sessions prior to the publication of the notice.

Something that would have at least allowed the public to know how many of the council members believe it's a wise course of action to follow, as well as to hear their thinking on why they don't believe that they should meet at all in public, from mid August until just before the November election.

This latest change to how they approach civic government appears to have come out of the blue, with no Council members having previously explored the theme of reducing council sessions even further than they already have.

As well, along with those cancelled sessions, will also come the absence  of the only opportunity for the public to raise questions, or issues with them in a public Council setting, that through the Council of the Whole process.

It also comes following some previous discussions at Council when it comes to the growing number of Closed Sessions that they host, as well as providing for a number of thoughts on potential changes to how the public can engage with their elected officials.

With threat uttered to staff, the city of Prince Rupert changes policies related to access to City Hall and Municipal officials
Council to hold to current process for Committee of the Whole; explore other engagement options as well
Council to explore new areas for community involvement in Council Sessions
City Staff to seek approval of new communication policy at Monday Council Session
City Council is sliding backwards when it comes to civic engagement
Council looks to move on Mirau's call for more transparency on close council issues
Councillor Cunningham reinforces his desire for more information sharing with the public

Considering all their talk over the last three years about wanting to be more transparent and accountable in their work. The plan now in motion to actually reduce the amount of the public sessions, a function where at least that those themes are supposed to be attempted, seems like an interesting interpretation as to how to achieve those particular goals.

You can review the year of Council just passed, along with a look at the attendance for each session from our Council archive page here.

Our notes also include the tally of  20 Closed sessions reported by Council this year, as well as for the five Special Council sessions that were called .

For more items related to City Council Discussion topics see our Council Discussion page.

Update: On Monday afternoon the City of Prince Rupert updated their website to provide notice of the 2018 Council schedule.

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