CENTRE WELLINGTON – A deferral on Centre Wellington’s updated procedural bylaw as well as the idea to bring an outside expert to assist has been met with mixed feelings from Centre Wellington council.
A procedural bylaw is a technical document that governs how council and committee meetings are run, held, called and how the public interacts with them.
In an email, clerk Kerri O’Kane explained that their current bylaw is outdated as it was passed in 2002.
For example, she said the current bylaw is vague on common procedures like reconsideration of motions, selection of a deputy mayor, and the rules of debate need to be clarified and expanded.
An ad hoc committee was formed to work on a draft of the new bylaw and see how they can incorporate public and council comments.
The committee, made up of mayor Kelly Linton and councillors Kirk McElwain and Neil Dunsmore, had come to realize that a lot of the suggestions may be against legislation and there appeared to be confusion over what the procedural bylaw actually does.
In an email, Linton explained that the procedural bylaw is not meant to address the quality of staff reports, councillor-staff relations or used as an educational tool for the public. All of these have been common suggestions from councillors and the public in written delegations.
A recommendation from this committee to bring in outside help to educate council and the public was defeated at Monday’s council meeting and further work was deferred until February.
This cancelled the public meeting planned for Dec. 14.
In a phone interview, Dunsmore explained that he suggested bringing in outside help with this as there is misunderstanding from some councillors and the public around town staff’s motives with the draft procedural bylaw.
He said this mistrust of staff is an ongoing issue in the township.
“We're not solving this together, we're not solving this between the two parties there's too much water under the bridge here,” Dunsmore said.
This is why he said an outside perspective would be helpful as there can’t be accusations of bias.
“I wanted somebody else to come in here and just let us know that we’re doing some things right, something's wrong and there’s some changes you’re trying to make that are against the Municipal Act,” Dunsmore said.
Many on council were in support of bringing forward an expert but were concerned about rushing the process and ultimately favoured deferring until after budget deliberations.
“It makes sense to push the bylaw out to February when staff, council and the public have more time to look at the matter,” said councillor Ian MacRae. “We have been operating under the 2002 bylaw up to now. A few more months won’t hurt.”
Councillor Steven VanLeeuwen agreed with MacRae and isn't concerned about the delay.
"It is more important to me that we take the appropriate time for each councillor to feel that they have had the right input needed for the bylaw to assist with meeting efficiency and also with meeting processes," VanLeeuwen said.
Councillor Stephen Kitras, who has been critical of the draft bylaw, said he thinks a consultant can help but is concerned that the focus will be on efficiency.
“I already get the signals that it will be biased toward corporate efficiency under the guise of the code words ‘best practices,’” Kitras said. “I think councillors and citizens on a committee should choose the consultant.”
Councillor Bob Foster has been a vocal critic of the proposed changes calling them an attack of representative government.
He said bringing in a consultant won’t help as it’s unclear what is exactly wrong with their current bylaw.
“No consultant can solve a problem that isn’t clearly defined, it would be a waste of money to hire a consultant to do that,” Foster said.
Linton echoed the clerk’s comment that their bylaw is out of date and isn’t reflective of current legislation and therefore must be updated.
Although he respects council’s decision to defer a decision, he doesn’t agree that it will help.
“Additional time is not what is missing,” Linton said.
“We could easily have had this completed by February if we had the assistance of a subject matter expert early in the process to help members of council and the public have a better understanding of the legislated purpose of a procedures bylaw.”
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com