West Nipissing overhauls procedural by-law

West Nipissing council is overhauling its procedure by-law, the document governing how council operates. Mayor Kathleen Thorne-Rochon noted the committee charged with the project went through the by-law “line by line.”

“We haven’t had a comprehensive review of our by-law,” West Nipissing’s chief administrative officer Jay Barbeau noted, “so this was an opportunity to start from scratch” with a new council. The current by-law was enacted shortly after Amalgamation.

In early January, council struck an ad-hoc committee to update the by-law and suggest revisions to council to approve. The mayor and councillors Anne Tessier, Jamie Restoule, and Daniel Gagne volunteered for the task. After three meetings of discussion, the team drafted a new version.

The result is a 26-page by-law covering all aspects of council’s operation, from definitions of roles and terms of reference to how to organize an inaugural meeting for a new council.

Some updates were included to ensure order around the council table as well. For example, the rules surrounding a point of order were outlined, clarifying the circumstances in which it can be used. In the past, a councillor might use a point of order incorrectly, and by doing so, disrupt the meeting. Now, it’s clearly laid out that a point of order can only be called by a member “to bring attention to the use of improper offensive or abusive language,” or “to bring notice of the fact that the matter under discussion is not within the scope of the proposed motion.”

The final reason to raise a point of order is to “bring attention to any other informality or irregularity in the proceedings of the Council.” Once raised, the Chair will address the point of order, and if the member disagrees with the Chair’s ruling, he or she may appeal, which could lead to a vote of council for the final decision.

See: West Nipissing councillors bask in the code of conduct

The document will also streamline certain portions of the meeting, such as including a Consent Agenda and providing time limits and parameters for debate on issues. At times, Barbeau noted, discussion can “become an argument as opposed to a debate,” and the new by-law aims to curb that.

“What we’re trying to do here, and what the committee discussed and agreed upon, is that if it’s very clear that certain individuals have a specific point and other individuals have another point and there’s no consensus” it’s advisable to “take it to a vote and move on,” Barbeau added.

There is also a section to “postpone indefinitely” a motion. This motion to postpone “may be introduced when an embarrassing, frivolous or vexatious main motion has been brought before the Members and the Members do not want to deal with it.”

A motion to postpone indefinitely may be introduced before the main motion has been made and before debate occurs. However, “there’s still a discussion, and there’s still a vote,” on the topic, Barbeau said.

The revised by-law also aims to “put a lot of control back into council as a whole,” Mayor Thorne-Rochon said, which will be accomplished by increased voting. She provided the example of having to expel someone from a meeting—which can happen in extreme circumstances of misconduct. Instead of the mayor deciding to eject someone for breaching conduct, council as a whole would decide, to ensure “there’s not an unequal distribution of power” at the table.

The new procedure by-law can be found on the municipal website, and council plans to officially adopt it at its next meeting.

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca