CENTRE WELLINGTON – Two municipal experts stressed to Centre Wellington council and the public that a procedure bylaw is not a catch-all document for every situation but should ultimately guide council to have effective and efficient meetings.
On Monday, the Township of Centre Wellington held a public workshop as part of the process to update their procedure bylaw, a quasi-legal document that governs how meetings are called, held and run.
The township has been working on this update since last year with numerous deferrals and delays along the way but recently council approved bringing in outside experts John Mascarin and Debi Wilcox to help guide the process and clear up confusion over what a procedure bylaw can and can’t do.
Mascarin began the workshop by explaining a procedure bylaw is more of a general guide and “not an encyclopedia.”
“The ultimate purpose is to ensure orderly, efficient, fair and effective governance of meetings,” Mascarin said. “You can not look up every particular instance to find out what is the rule. It sets out general parameters and general rules to be followed but it doesn’t set out every single possible situation to be followed.”
He said it’s also not a repository for all municipal policies and recommends not replicating or duplicating items found in other documents.
Wilcox shared this same view and further said the document should not be overly long to the point where meetings need to be recessed to find rules.
The workshop was open for questions and comments from a number of residents who tuned in to learn more.
Donna McCaw asked for consideration for increased time between agenda posting and the meeting as she said she found the turnaround time was too quick for meaningful input from constituents.
She also noted a councillors job is complex and has a steep learning curve and asked for increased training or mentoring which will be more important as the town grows.
Staci Barron said when watching the meetings she finds the motions to sometimes be complex or loaded with multiple issues and suggested stipulating motions to be singular and more clear.
Wilcox said these comments will be taken into consideration when working on the draft procedure bylaw. When asked by Coun. Stephen Kitras about how she will evaluate submitted comments, she replied they will be based on relevance and no greater weight will be given to councillor comments over those of residents.
Tom Nudds asked about balancing efficiency and effectiveness noting that an overly efficient and fast meeting can come at the expense of good governance.
Mascarin said this is an important point and stressed you don’t want to “tip the scales” too much in either direction.
He said a procedure bylaw should move meetings at a good pace but also allow time for comments and questions from councillors.
Coun. Ian MacRae asked if the procedure bylaw should reference the code of conduct with Mascarin replying it shouldn’t.
“One of the things I seek to avoid is to have duplication and replication in different documents ... there’s no point in having those same or similar clauses,” Mascarin said. “I don’t see any need for a cross reference.”
Coun. Bob Foster asked if the neutrality of the head of council, in this case the mayor, should be included in the bylaw.
Wilcox replied the chair of the meeting is also a member of council entitled to vote, move motions and share their comments on municipal matters. Mascarin echoed this viewpoint.
“I think it's naive to think the member is not in some way on one side or the other,” Mascarin said. “While the meeting has to be fair, I don’t know if the member necessarily has to be neutral and can voice their view.”
Mayor Kelly Linton pulled out some politically charged comments submitted during the initial review last year that claimed the draft bylaw created by the clerk would be “the end of democracy” and an attempt to “squelch debate.”
He asked if there was anything they read in the draft document that would support these views with both experts disagreeing with those comments.
“I don’t see how it’s ending democracy, I see it as fostering democracy by trying to put in place an efficient, effective system of meetings so you can make decisions and pass bylaws to fulfil your mandate,” Mascarin said.
No decisions were made at this meeting and an updated draft procedure bylaw is expected in June.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com