Nelson’s new mayor has an agenda.
Janice Morrison admitted she wanted the newest version of Nelson city council to have more open and public discussions — as well as agendas — than it has ever had.
In a bid to begin to restore trust and confidence in municipal government, Morrison said open government and clear council agendas — with a council and staff reporting front-loaded on the agenda — were going to be the early hallmarks of the elected officials’ focus over the next few months.
On Tuesday night at the inaugural meeting — and swearing in — of city council at the Prestige Lakeside Resort in front of nearly 200 people, she took her oath of office and began the first night of elected mayoral office for the next four years.
“I want to have more openness,” she said after the event. “Like I said throughout the (election) campaign, I want to have less in-camera meetings. So, hopefully, the rest of the council will join with me and make some changes to the Procedural Bylaw.”
The rest of council — incumbents Rik Logtenberg, Jesse Woodward and Keith Page, and new councillors Kate Tait, Jesse Peneiro and Lesley Payne — also took their oaths on Tuesday night and will spend the next couple of months getting up to speed in regard to duties, committees and the budget.
They will also be privy and have input to the attempt by Morrison to re-work the agenda, a move that requires a Procedural Bylaw change.
“Historically, council has spent a great deal of time at the in-camera meetings — although there is a reason for in-camera meetings — a lot of what council does should be in the open,” said Morrison.
“What happens is council will have a conversation, and the conversation drifts off into areas that should have been in the open meeting.”
Those other areas generally tread in the realm of strategic, bigger picture issues, not the personnel or human resource discussions if which the in-camera meetings were intended for.
The strategic, bigger picture discussions are the ones people want to hear, said Morrison.
“It seems like, if you come to a council meeting, you can wonder where the debate was on some issues because some of it happened in the in-camera meetings,” she pointed out. “It probably should have been in the open meeting so that the public could have seen that transparency, could have heard more of that discussion.”
She felt the only way to corral that spontaneous discussion on municipal affairs into the public arena was to re-structure the agenda so that doesn’t happen there.
Morrison will be asking that the chief administrative officer do a report at each meeting that will take place at the front of the open meeting, and is hoping that councillors will also be doing some reporting out as well at the front of the meeting on the work they are doing in the community.
Council reports have historically been left to the end of the meetings and have, as a result, been rushed or re-scheduled.
Reports out of council are not necessarily business, said Morrison, and they are not something the city is going to make a decision on, but moving reporting up in the meeting ensures the lines of communication are more open with the public.
At some point early in the new term the new version of council will be looking at the strategic plan for the city, charting, mapping and identifying the big issues and how to tackle them.
“That is the driver, that is what council uses to drive the over-arching vision for the city,” said Morrison. “At that point we will be looking for any sort of thing that is a significant change.”
There have been two meetings of council but the bottom line — the budget — has dominated those discussions.
“We are starting right away on doing the budget and the issues around the budget,” Morrison related. “And I clearly heard from the people during the campaign that they are concerned about rising taxes. That’s why we have to take a good look at the budget.”
Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily