The “Other” City Council Meetings
Ron Bolin: Feb. 3, 2011
In 2011 Nanaimo City Council will hold 18 Monday regular Council Meetings in the 300 seat Shaw Auditorium at our downtown conference centre. During this same year, the full Council will meet 19 times as the “Finance and Policy Committee of the Whole” (FPCOW) in the board room of City Hall with few seats to spare. The major difference between these two meetings of Council is related to the fact that bylaws and the exercise of bylaw powers cannot be delegated [Community Charter section 154]. But as we shall see, Council handles many very important issues at these meetings. If we consider the last two FPCOW meetings (Jan.17 and 31, 2011) and the next (Feb. 7, 2011) we can see the kinds of issues undertaken:
- Jan. 17 – Presentations were made on the budgets of the Planning, Development, Human Resources and Strategic Relationships Departments by their Department heads.
- Jan. 17 – Discussion of a delegation request that the Green Lake area be serviced with sewers as was allegedly promised years ago at amalgamation costing some $3-4 million. With an implied extension of some $16+ millions for other areas not serviced with sewers.
- Jan. 17 – Reports and discussion of Lighting at an artificial turf field; holding combat sports events at the VICC; Quarterly Report of the Manager of Purchasing and Stores; Councillor Bestwick’s request for $14,392.27 re: the Conflict of Interest issue.
- Jan. 17 – Council moved to an in camera meeting and the public was excluded.
- Jan. 31 – Over $200,000 in grants was discussed and decided.
- Jan. 31 – A sole source contract for $69,000 was discussed and decided.
- Jan. 31 – Licenses to use City property for 5 and for 10 years were discussed and decided.
- Jan. 31 – A 5 year operating agreement was discussed and decided.
- Jan. 31 – Council moved to an in camera meeting and the public was excluded.
- Feb. 7 – Issues on the agenda include:
o A Presentation on Budget Methods;
o Authorizing $900,000 for 3 Waste Collection Trucks;
o Approving $70,000 for more Quarterway Bridge development;
o Cilaire Street Lighting;
o Resident Only parking in the neighbourhoods surrounding Vancouver Island University;
o A scheduled in camera meeting.
[Details can be found in the Agendas and Minutes of FPCOW, as well as other Council Committee meetings, can be found on the city’s web site. Minutes are not available for some time due to the fact that they are not approved until the next scheduled meeting and are then not reported on line until the meeting following approval.]
As seen from these agenda items a significant portion of Council’s business is carried out here in the shadows. The discussions are often livelier than those at Council meetings and very important financial and other decisions are made here. FPCOW meetings are not captured in video or audio and there is thus no record excepting what may be presented by a representative of the media if one or more are present and minutes are not provided for some time. Millions of tax dollars move through FPCOW, budgets are presented at a more comprehensible level, and major issues are discussed, all currently in the absence of significant attention from the citizens, tax payers, and often, the media, who will have to live with the consequences of decisions made here. This Committee has real power and uses it. We should pay more attention to its workings.
Have you ever attended a FPCOW meeting? If so, what are your comments? If not, why not?
I haven’t attended because I’m a fairly recent newcomer to paying attention to City of Nanaimo affairs and wasn’t even aware of FPCOW’s existence, but have been aware of other local governing groups where a great deal of business is conducted in parallel committees and then brought to a meeting of the whole (in this case city council, eventually) for approval.
However, it’s an indication of pretty widespread voter apathy if only the board room at City Hall is designated for FPCOW meetings. If suddenly and unexpectedly a large number of locals showed up for one of these meetings, there could be no speedy switch to the Shaw Auditorium in the Conference Centre. That’s *our* fault, not theirs. I assume that the information on dates and times of these meetings is available somewhere?
Another question: at what point did this committee move back to “out of camera” (becoming committee of the whole again) after dealing with the Bestwick legal fees matter? Pretty immediately, I’d imagine, but I’m curious.
I believe that the reason for earlier access to minutes of meetings simply isn’t there because at least under Roberts’ Rules of Order and probably by legislation, too, those minutes do not become the offical minutes of a previous meeting until a motion is made, a seconder offers up a hand, amendments will be asked for, and a vote is taken, at which point the minutes are adopted and *do* become the offical and legal minutes of the meeting in question.
It is another indication of general voter apathy, though things are picking up. I think every seat was taken this afternoon, many by by-election candidates who are quickly getting religion.
One can’t be sure when Council comes out of it’s in-camera session as the public is cleared when it starts -which comes at the end of other business. I am not aware of any situation where open business began again after an in camera session.
Minutes can be either unofficial or official. For example the minutes given in an agenda are unofficial til they have been adopted. My point relates to the fact that unofficial minutes can come out soon after the meeting -in fact one assumes that they are prepared quickly. Why not put these unofficial minutes out soon after the meeting. After all, the video, a superior record, is available the day after the meeting. They would still not become official until adopted.
I’m a little confused. Do you mean that once public attendees are excluded because the meeting is going in camera there has never been an occasion when the meeting has come back out of “in camera” and the public attendees have been notified that this has happened? I am also confused about the difference between “in camera” and “committee of the whole”, possibly the foundation of my confusion. Meetings which I have been accustomed to attending have been run this way: when the “committee of the whole/in camera” part of the meeting is concluded, the meeting is then opened up again and decisions made during the public-excluded part of the meeting are reported on, brought to the table as motions, and voted upon. If you could clarify this for me, it would be much appreciated.
Equally, I am accustomed to minutes either being “official” or being, in effect, legally non-existent. They have not become minutes of a previous meeting until circulated, hopefully read by the recipients, and then after any omissions or errors are amended (which must be asked for), voted upon. If there have been no omissions or errors they are adopted as read; if not, they are adopted as amended.
The timing of these meetings is unfortunate and unwise. It’s no wonder that there is widespread voter apathy: only those who are not working nine-to-five jobs, who are retired, or who work in circumstances where work hours are flexible would be able to attend. That explains why some average working people are apathetic–they’re simply not able to attend the “backgrounders” to following council meetings. The timing also cuts out this important and typically apathetic voting bloc which badly needs to be represented on council: young working people establishing their lives and raising young families. They are the people unable to attend these meetings.
And that, sadly, maintains control of the city in the hands of the established old boys’ and girls’ club, who are able to attend meetings at times like this. I can only think of two, upon rapid mental review, who may still be working.
Voter Apathy as well as the time of these meetings. Many people are just getting off of work or still at work and are unable to make it down for the FPCOW meetings. I for one try to attemd all of the regular council meetings but am unable to make most of the FPCOW meetings though I have attended a few. Should actually try and make it more often. I have found it rather amusing that very seldom do you ever see anyone who has run for council, you and I being the exception, at any of these meetings. It is only when an election is imminent that those deciding to run will start attending, kinda makes me wonder.
Gord: You forgot to mention Fred Taylor who makes both of us look like small potatoes when it comes to attendance.
Wendy: Sorry if I have confused you. The Finance Policy Committee of the Whole is a committee made up of all Council Members. They meet, usually on Monday afternoons alternating with regular Monday evening Council meetings. Both meetings are open to the public, but FPCOW takes place in a small board room at City Hall.
Taking a meeting “in-camera” is a procedure which is based on the Division in the Community Charter (Division 3) which deals with Open Meetings. Council meetings are to be open to the public except under conditions spelled out in Division 3, Section 90 as follows:
“Division 3 — Open Meetings
General rule that meetings must be open to the public
89 (1) A meeting of a council must be open to the public, except as provided in this Division.
(2) A council must not vote on the reading or adoption of a bylaw when its meeting is closed to the public.
Meetings that may or must be closed to the public
90 (1) A part of a council meeting may be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered relates to or is one or more of the following:
(a) personal information about an identifiable individual who holds or is being considered for a position as an officer, employee or agent of the municipality or another position appointed by the municipality;
(b) personal information about an identifiable individual who is being considered for a municipal award or honour, or who has offered to provide a gift to the municipality on condition of anonymity;
(c) labour relations or other employee relations;
(d) the security of the property of the municipality;
(e) the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality;
(f) law enforcement, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the conduct of an investigation under or enforcement of an enactment;
(g) litigation or potential litigation affecting the municipality;
(h) an administrative tribunal hearing or potential administrative tribunal hearing affecting the municipality, other than a hearing to be conducted by the council or a delegate of council;
(i) the receipt of advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose;
(j) information that is prohibited, or information that if it were presented in a document would be prohibited, from disclosure under section 21 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act;
(k) negotiations and related discussions respecting the proposed provision of a municipal service that are at their preliminary stages and that, in the view of the council, could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality if they were held in public;
(l) discussions with municipal officers and employees respecting municipal objectives, measures and progress reports for the purposes of preparing an annual report under section 98 [annual municipal report];
(m) a matter that, under another enactment, is such that the public may be excluded from the meeting;
(n) the consideration of whether a council meeting should be closed under a provision of this subsection or subsection (2);
(o) the consideration of whether the authority under section 91 [other persons attending closed meetings] should be exercised in relation to a council meeting.
(2) A part of a council meeting must be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered relates to one or more of the following:
(a) a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, if the council is designated as head of the local public body for the purposes of that Act in relation to the matter;
(b) the consideration of information received and held in confidence relating to negotiations between the municipality and a provincial government or the federal government or both, or between a provincial government or the federal government or both and a third party;
(c) a matter that is being investigated under the Ombudsperson Act of which the municipality has been notified under section 14 [ombudsperson to notify authority] of that Act;
(d) a matter that, under another enactment, is such that the public must be excluded from the meeting.
(3) If the only subject matter being considered at a council meeting is one or more matters referred to in subsection (1) or (2), the applicable subsection applies to the entire meeting.”
It may be noted that there is a long distance between “may” and “must” and that the Catch 22 in this is the fact that one, by definition, really does not know what has been discussed. Notice of an in-camera session is contained in an agenda and is, as a matter of convenience to all, usually that last matter in an agenda so that the public is not left waiting for an undefined length of time.
As to the question about the Minutes of Meetings, I stick by my interpretation. Minutes of the previous Meeting of whatever type are contained along with the agenda for the next meeting. Thus, for example, the Minutes of Council or FPCOW meetings are usually available along with the agenda for the next meeting and are usually available on the Thursday afternoon preceding the meeting. I refer to those minutes available on Thursday afternoon as “unofficial” as they have not yet been adopted, and as “official” after they are adopted at the Monday meeting. I hold further that the minutes would be no less “unofficial” if they were released the day after the meeting which they record, than if they are released on the Thursday preceding their adoption.
As for the time at which FPCOW meetings take place, I agree. For those with regular full time employment other than self employment, such meetings require a very understanding employer. I know of no reason why the time could not be moved to an evening -and to a larger venue. -But it has been thus for quite some time. Perhaps our new candidates can raise this issue.