CENTRE WELLINGTON – The Township of Centre Wellington is taking another crack at drafting an updated procedural bylaw.
Council has approved bringing in an outside expert and holding multiple workshops aimed at educating and engaging the public.
A municipality’s procedural bylaw is a technical document that governs how council and committee meetings are run, held, called and how the public interacts with them.
The township previously attempted to to update the document last fall. This was met with some resistance from councillors who wanted a more public process which led to an ad hoc committee, a recommendation to bring in outside help and ultimately a deferral until this year.
In a report to council on Monday, clerk Kerri O’Kane presented an updated public engagement for council’s approval.
O’Kane said they recommend retaining the services of John Mascarin, a noted expert on municipal law, and Debi Wilcox, a registered parliamentarian and former municipal clerk. The report notes Wilcox's fee is estimated at $1,500 and Mascarin at $775 per hour.
She explained staff are recommending an educational workshop followed by a public meeting in early May followed by meetings by the ad hoc committee to prepare a draft document to be published online.
Then another public meeting is planned for June for further public engagement with the final draft set for approval at the end of the month.
A majority of council was pleased to see this back before them but there were comments it was unusual to have so much public discussion over an internal document.
“We’re giving people two public meetings and we’re giving it far more airing than any municipality I’m aware of on a procedural bylaw,” said Coun. Neil Dunsmore.
Dunsmore said they should use these meetings to educate future councillors and the public to reduce misunderstandings over what the document does.
Coun. Stephen Kitras and Kirk McElwain both had reservations over the tight timeline given to the public for submissions, particularly the same day first public workshop and meeting.
O’Kane clarified they aren’t really expecting same-day submissions and noted there was time between those meetings and the next steps.
She acknowledged the turnaround time is tight but said she believed those who are passionate and want to provide comments will be able to do so appropriately.
Coun. Steven VanLeeuwen agreed this was more than adequate, almost overkill, and said he’d be surprised if there is any new engagement from those who hadn’t already commented the first time around.
Coun. Bob Foster said he has not been convinced there’s a need for changes to the bylaw and in fact finds the problem that the current bylaw is ignored leading to a lack of discussion before voting.
Mayor Kelly Linton countered that Centre Wellington meetings tend to be the longest with most discussion among Wellington County municipalities and most who watch the meetings wouldn’t agree that debate is silenced.
He further said this actually goes against their current procedure bylaw, which allows for each member to speak once to an item, but as chair he does give some leeway.
“We do need a procedural bylaw, one of the reasons why is to make these council meetings more efficient,” Linton said. “Our council meetings are anything but efficient.”
Council approved the public engagement strategy in a 5-2 vote with Foster and Kitras against.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com