Beware: We are about to be Governanced

Ron Bolin: March 28, 2014
With the minimal allowable notice, the following agenda for a meeting at 9am yesterday to “receive a presentation regarding proposed revisions to Council’s Procedure Bylaw”, was announced on the City’s web site. See:

Click to access PN140327Notice.pdf

Later in the day a complete agenda with reports was made available at:

Click to access SOGSC140327A.pdf

This document would have allowed citizens to assess the importance of attending this meeting and asking questions about these changes to the City’s procedure bylaw which governs the conduct of Council and Council meetings. In examining the recommended changes, it becomes apparent that the major changes will involve the relationship of Council to Citizens in meetings and that these changes are directed toward simplifying meetings by reducing public participation. While I have not had time to analyze these changes carefully, a task made much more difficult in the absence of a concordance which would show, item by item, the existing bylaw and the recommended changes, the document is marked by comments about the changes in the absence of direct comparison. I recommend that all examine this document which covers pp 9 to 27 in the report to see how it may impact the participation of you and any organizations to which you may belong as they interact with City Council and Staff.

For the time being I will simply copy for your consideration some snippets from the Draft Procedure Bylaw: A Bylaw to Regulate the Conduct of the Meetings Of the Council and its Committees, Commissions Board of Variance, Panels, and Advisory Bodies, revised March 18, 2014.  Text in italics represent direct quotes.
“Public Notice Posting Place” means the public notice board at City Hall, or the public notice board at Bowen Park Complex Lobby, 500 Bowen Road, Nanaimo, or the public notice board at the Beban Park Pool at 2300 Bowen Road, Nanaimo; (Public Notice via website?)

Open Meeting Requirement
4.1 With the exception of Closed Meetings (called under subsection 4.2.d), all meetings shall be open to the public to observe. In support of transparency, the following provisions shall apply:
a) Members must not substantially advance the decision making process via private gatherings that are not advertised and are not open to the public to observe;
b) Although agenda reviews and purely educational sessions that do not advance the decision making process are not deemed to be meetings and may be held privately, a clear statement shall be made at the start of such sessions and, if needed, as such sessions progress, that
the decision making process must not be advanced during such sessions. (Note: there is no definition of what constitutes, “advancing the decision making process”.)

Agendas and Deadlines for Regular Meetings
5.1 Agendas for Regular Meetings of Council and the Committee of the Whole shall be prepared by the Corporate Officer or designated staff person. The deadline for submission of materials for a meeting shall be 1 p.m. on the Wednesday preceding the meeting, and the agenda shall be
finalized and announced to the Members and to the public by 4 p.m. on the Thursday preceding the meeting. (Note: No change. We all still get the bums rush in the examination of items coming before Council.)

Standard Agendas for Regular Council Meetings
5.2 The order of business for Regular Council Meetings shall ordinarily be as follows, and this order may be modified at any Regular Council meeting by a majority vote or by unanimous consent:
a) Call to order and opening remarks
b) Invited Presentations
c) Public comment on agenda items (up to two minutes per person; total up to ten minutes)
d) Public Delegations (up to five minutes each; up to four delegations)
e) Consent agenda (includes approval of previous minutes & non-contentious items)
f) Mayor’s Report
g) City Manager’s Report
h) Board/Commission/Committee Reports
i) Bylaws
j) Councillors’ Reports (may include Notices of Motions for a future meeting, if any)
k) Business Initiated by Councillors (originating from previous notices under item j)
l) Media question period (up to two minutes per person; total up to ten minutes)

5.3 In cases where there is substantial community interest in providing input to Council on specific topics, the Presiding Officer and the Corporate Officer may schedule extra time or additional meetings to accommodate such public input.  (Note particularly the items in bold.)

And Last, but not least for today’s observations:

Opportunities for Public Input
14.1 Confirming its commitment to learning from public input, Council extends opportunities for public input, above and beyond the public hearings required by statute, and invites public comments under three categories during its Regular Meetings:
a) Public comment on agenda items: Up to ten (10) minutes shall be provided at the start of a Regular Council meeting for citizens to comment on items on the current meeting agenda, except for procedural motions and the adoption of minutes. In order to accommodate as many citizens as possible, each speaker shall be given up to two (2) minutes to speak. If the
speaker asks a question, the Mayor shall briefly respond to it.
b) Media question period: Up to ten minutes shall be provided at the end of a Regular Council meeting for media reporters to ask questions of Council. Each speaker will be given up to two (2) minutes, which shall include up to one follow-up question. The Presiding Officer may respond to questions or refer them to a Council Member or to City Staff.
c) Public delegations: Individuals or groups who wish to make a presentation to Council may apply to do so under the provisions below.

14.2 In recognition that Council is required to concentrate on its deliberations and govern with the entire community in mind, citizens who observe Council meetings and those who speak to Council shall be expected to display respect to Council, to the public office held by its Members, and to Council’s decision making processes. Abusive language, vocal outbursts, and any other disruptive or disrespectful conduct shall be prohibited.

14.3 Citizens in attendance shall be required to turn off any cell phones, pagers or other audible devices, or, as a minimum, turn such devices to silent prompting. If a citizen needs to initiate or respond to any calls, she or he shall leave the meeting.

14.4 Breaches of Sections 14.2 and 14.3 shall be addressed by the Presiding Officer who, after cautioning a person, may order the person to leave or to be removed from the meeting.

Application to Present as a Public Delegation

14.5 A citizen or group may submit an application to speak at a Council Meeting as a public delegation, and such person or group may request that a related document, petition or proposal be placed before Council, by submitting a completed application form to the Corporate Officer by
1 p.m. of the Wednesday preceding the meeting at which they wish to be heard.

14.6 In recognition of the scope of business that requires Council’s attention, the number of public delegations shall be limited to four (4) at each meeting, unless Council, by a majority vote, agrees to hear additional delegations. Each public delegation may speak up to five (5) minutes and its presentation must be confined to the topic that was indicated in the application.

14.7 The Corporate Officer shall be granted the authority to screen delegation requests and, if deemed appropriate, refuse to place a delegation on the Agenda if the issue is not within the mandate or jurisdiction of a Municipal Council. In the event the delegation wishes to appeal the Corporate Officer’ decision, the information shall not be placed on the Agenda but shall be distributed under separate cover to Council for their consideration.

14.8 Where a delegation has addressed Council on a particular issue, if a subsequent request is received from the same delegation to address Council on the same issue, and no new significant information is being provided, the Corporate Officer will be granted the authority to not place the item on the Agenda, but will circulate the request under separate cover as an item of general information.

Presentations by Public Delegations
14.9 As per Bylaw Section 14.6, a presentation by a delegation shall not exceed five (5) minutes. It may then be followed by questions for a period of up to five (5) minutes. Each Member may ask one brief clarifying question and up to one brief follow up question. Members shall not enter debate with a presenter and shall refrain from giving lengthy preambles to their questions.
14.10 As noted in Section 1 0.3, if a public delegation or a citizen requests a decision by Council, the request shall be referred to City Staff by resolution for review.

15.1 Correspondence addressed to the Mayor and Council collectively shall be processed by the City Manager and Staff under Council’s policies, except when input or directions from Council are required, in which case such communications shall be brought forward to a Council meeting. All such communications and Staff responses shall be available to Council Members for inspection.

15.2 Requests for proclamations shall be forwarded to the Mayor’s Office for processing.

I found no additional information concerning the role of the “media” in Question Period.

I will look forward to your comments on the effects of the recommendations on public participation and on other areas of the proposed Procedure Bylaw.