Another Monday Night Favorite?
Ron Bolin: March 8, 2012
Nanaimo’s Finance Policy Committee of the Whole (FPCOW), the OTHER Council meeting, met for the first time on March 5 in the Shaw Auditorium. This was a result of their recent decision to meet there for reasons of accessibility at least until the Board Room in the New City Hall Annex is ready. This move makes possible the video recording of FPCOW meetings just as is done for the “regular” Council meetings which we can now follow on Shaw Cable, direct on-line through the City’s web site, or by the recorded video that is maintained at the City’s web site.
In thinking about the programs associated with these two different Council meetings it is worthwhile to consider the somewhat different functions which they perform. Bylaws can only be passed in a “regular” Council meeting. For this reason they are heavy on the land development component of the City’s activities. For this reason, many of the items found on a regular Council agenda are of interest primarily to a neighbourhood or a relatively restricted area around an application for a rezoning or a development permit. Outside the OCP and Zoning bylaws, the majority of such matters are primarily of interest to a relatively restricted part of the community.
In dealing with Financial and Policy matters, however, the FPCOW meetings cover subjects of general interest across the Community. It has been a shame that these meetings have been held in a venue which provides no communication facilities, where no audio or video record of the meeting is captured, where seating is very limited, and additionally, the meetings are held at a time when most citizens are unable to attend, i.e. 4:30 in the afternoon.
The move to the Shaw, with the necessary facilities in place, makes it possible to overcome all of the above impediments to the ability of citizens’ to see their Council in action on matters of financial and policy concern to all. Looking at our municipal election last November where barely 1 in 4 eligible voters chose to go to the polls, one can but wonder if ignorance of what is happening at City Hall plays a role. Here is our chance to open a window on our City to our Citizens. We should take it. To make this happen will require political will on the part of our Council who, when this idea was broached and at least initially, expressed some concern about losing the coziness of the current situation. If you agree with me that the FPCOW meetings should be available to the public on-line at the City’s web site, contact our Mayor and Councillors.
Watching FPCOW meetings can help you to understand why our 2012 budget and, by extension, our Financial Plan, is now larger that it was when it was first presented to Council by Staff.
Getting the FPCOW meetings recorded and made available on the City Website should be one of those things that we can actually get accomplished. People need to mention it to Council and mention it often.
On Monday, Council will, in all probablility, accept the advice of the City Manager and continue to operate as much in the dark as is possible. They will vote to keep the public from viewing what they are doing in the other Council meeting, a meeting which they hold, normally in a small room at 4:30 in the afternoon, even though, at least for now, they meet in a $72.5 million dollar facility, in an auditorium with tens of thousands of dollars in AV equipment and which they would have you believe that that equipment cannot be used by any ordinary folk who are willing, as does the City, around $1000 for the use of the facilities and that it would cost anyone wanting to record events in the auditorium to pay at least $2500 for added equipment plus some $80 per hour for someone to do the recording. Small wonder that we may find few takers ourside the City to rent the Auditorium if the facilities are so poor.
I have also been told that the AV facilities belong to the City, rather than to Shaw as indeed they must if the Conference Centre management is to rent the facility without Shaw’s let.
Of the act of permitting the wider public to see what our Council is doing, the City Manager has written:
“CITY MANAGER COMMENT:
My experience is that televised Council meetings tend to be formal in nature with strict
adherence to protocol and procedure. In the past, Finance/Policy Committee of the Whole
meetings have been less formal, allowing for more in-depth review and discussion of issues.
It is recognized that Council has made a commitment for increased public transparency, but
having television cameras at Finance/Policy Committee of the Whole meetings may not
contribute to increased transparency unless the Finance/Policy Committee of the Whole
meetings continue to be a forum for detailed review of issues. If past experience is a guide,
the presence of television cameras will make this challenging to achieve as the meetings can be expected to become more formal which could tend to result in less in-depth discussion.”
In my experience there is little in-depth discussion of finance or policy matters in these meetings, though I will grant that there is more banter and joviality. Whether this atmosphere is to be prized over substance, I remain unconvinced.
At Monday’s meeting Council will discuss such matters as:
– the scheduling of “In Camera” Meetings;
– the 2011 Financial Plan Statements;
– 2012-2016 Financial Plan Bylaw;
– the Policy of Giving Preference to local suppliers;
– Video Recording of Finance Policy Committee of the Whole Meetings;
– the Quarterly Report on Direct Award Purchases ($390,000);
– The Quarterly Report on Single Submission Purchases ($64,000).
Anything can be done at a Committee of the Whole Meeting with the exception of passing a bylaw. As can be seen, it is a prime spot for discussing financial matters.
Call your Councillors and tell them that, though you may be moribund, you are not politically dead yet and you want to see an accountable record of these meetings.