There are Bylaws… And then there are Bylaws

Ron Bolin  — July 19, 2010
I was fortunate enough this afternoon (July 19, 2010) to have attended the FPCOW meeting of Council. There was really only one issue and it dealt with Real Estate and Construction signs. A real snooze, eh? Well not really. SIGN BYLAW 1987 NO. 2850 covers all kinds of signs, among them those used by Developers, Builders and the Real Estate Industry to tout their wares along our city streets. The bylaw specifies the number, the size and the allowed duration for such signs. As it turns out, bylaw 2850 has not only been ignored, but apparently officially ignored, for at least the last 2.5 years as the result of an In-Camera decision by Council in 2008 (the old Council) to do so.

A number of major issues are involved here. Some Council members were concerned about the fact that certain of the local Real Estate related businesses were, in effect, thumbing their noses at the City and its Bylaws. But they were also concerned about the precedent of the failure of the city to act which had been set over the last number of years as a result of a Council decision.

Today’s meeting brought forward a Staff recommendation that the practice of ignoring the bylaw for Real Estate and Construction signs continue while Staff works on a rewrite of the Sign Bylaw (time line unspecified) despite 32 reported complaints about these signs. There was considerable discussion will all taking part at some point. In the end, a four month grace period has been identified as has, after 2.5 years, the urgency of a new Sign Bylaw. The question of dealing with complaints in the meantime remains moot.

There are many questions in need of answers: 1) Who can ignore bylaws with impunity; 2) Which bylaws can be ignored with impunity; 3) Which bylaws will be served by complaint only; 4) Which bylaws will the City undertake to defend without a complaint; and 5) What protection do bylaws really provide to Nanaimo’s citizens under such circumstances? When the Acting City Manager was asked whether the city might be liable to litigation by openly ignoring bylaws, I was told that Council had authority to ignore bylaws -at least some bylaws. The opportunities for mischief to arise under such capricious circumstanced are manifest.

Citizens are entitled to see the list of those bylaws that can be ignored with impunity, those which will only be enforced by complaints, and those which will be acted upon wherever and whenever found by city staff. It is also important to learn about the passage of such bylaw buggering authorizations by Council in In Camera meetings. What other such decisions lurk in the minutes of In Camera meetings which are not available to the public. And what part(s) of the Community Charter authorizes Council to ignore its own bylaws and to hide abuses in In Camera meetings?

What do you think?