Changes to governance
GRAVENHURST - Council is looking to alter how it conducts its meetings and workflow for efficiency in the hope less is more.
During its most recent committee of the whole meeting June 5, council approved a resolution that will see several significant changes to how council governs, reducing the number of committee and regular business meetings, as well as the number of committees themselves.
The governance structure recommendations were brought forth from staff and through the clerk’s department as a way to “utilize council and staff time in the most efficient way.”
The document recommends removing the current council schedule of committee of the whole and regular council on the first and third Tuesdays of the month. The first Tuesday meeting schedule would remain the same with committee of the whole beginning at 3 p.m., followed by council business, but the second meeting set for the third Tuesday will be removed.
Committee of adjustment would remain intact, meeting once a month on the third Wednesday, with planning council remaining the fourth Tuesday of each month.
Beyond those remaining three committees, council will now look to create a single standing committee to replace a number of bodies that will carry a rotating chair position.
The proposed schedule would begin with the September meeting, following an August break, with Mayor Paisley Donaldson the first chair for two months. It would then rotate to Deputy Mayor Jeff Watson for November and December and through the rest of council, two months at a time, for the duration of this council term (ending 2014).
The remainder of town committees will be reviewed for effectiveness and efficiency and either quashed or turned into task forces, which carry a short-term life and deal with specific issues.
Although expressing his overall support, one concern Coun. Bob Colhoun brought forth was that of the revolving chair position, believing it might provide more consistency and knowledge with a single representative filling the chair role.
“I don’t think it’s efficient; it reminds me a little bit of having a baseball team and having every kid on the team play pitcher, and we all know that’s not very efficient,” he said.
Coun. Joe Donoghue agreed with the point, adding with the proposed chair rotation schedule, “I wouldn’t have anything to do until next summer, 2013.”
The overall reduction in monthly public meetings also gave Coun. Lola Bratty concern about how that might impact council’s ability to react to unforeseen issues that may arise.
“We’re a public corporation; our business is conducted in the public and the information to support our business is public information,” she said. “I want it explained to me how this will enhance public awareness and accountability of the issues we’re dealing with … and how this will bring the public more into the process.”
CAO Frank Miele said the restructuring is exactly what is needed to accomplish that goal of transparency and increased productivity within council chambers.
“The objective of restructuring governance is based on more accountability to the public,” he said.
Removing the former committee structure from council’s shoulders and implementing more short-term task forces and working sessions “is an excellent example of how we can engage the public on more occasions,” he explained.
He used the Terence Haight endowment issue and the public meeting held earlier in the day June 5 that drew out a large crowd for open debate and how a “working session format” would have been beneficial.
“Council would have had the ability to discuss it in more detail (rather than rush through for the council and committee of the whole business meeting), where the public would have been able to attend and would have a better understanding of what the implications are,” Miele explained. “I think it enhances the awareness, the input and the accountability factors.”
Mayor Paisley Donaldson said she, too, supports the recommendations and sees the advantage in having both a rotating chair and fewer meeting responsibilities for councillors.
“We’ve been doing the same thing over and over for many years and I think it’s time we try something different. If it doesn’t work I’d be the first to admit we need to go back,” she said.
By having a revolving chair position, she added, every councillor will become more familiar with any given issue and expert in town departments.
“And if there’s an issue that comes along that’s that important, by all means, I will call a special meeting,” she said.
“I really feel if we could try it and enhance it, everyone will become more engrossed in everything we do,” Deputy Mayor Watson said of the rotating chair position. “Finance won’t necessarily be my cup of tea, it will be everybody’s cup of tea. I’m still a little bit hesitant, but I think it’s worth a try.”
The resolution passed with only councillors Bratty and Colhoun opposed. The next step will be for clerk Candace Thwaites to review the committee workload and their effectiveness. She said some committees, such as the accessibility committee, are required by law and will remain in perpetuity. Others may be removed entirely or turned into task forces, such as the snowmobile task force, which has a temporary mandate.
The resolution will return to council in August, along with the committee review, for final approval.
“We’ve been doing the same thing over and over for