Another Manic Monday…

Ron Bolin: Sep 1, 2015

Yesterday’s (Aug. 31, 2015) meetings dealing with the Colliery Dams were both brought down by lack of quorums.  The first, a meeting of the Colliery Dams Select Committee, never garnered sufficient members to permit a meeting to take place, and was replaced by some general, and generally disgruntled, discussion of events, the flow of information, and feelings of inadequacy.  My opinion about the precarious existence of the Committee remains unchanged.  It has not yet selected a Chairman so its political posture remains vague and its efficiency and effectiveness are sufficiently shackled to an administrative machine that does not seem to be really interested in its existence or its findings.

The part of the Council meeting which was to deal with the appointment of a contractor to construct the new Colliery Dam spillway was scheduled for 6pm and began at 6:10 with a harangue from the Mayor about decorum in the cheap seats began with only one Councillor (Councillor Yoachim) absent and a clear quorum (A quorum is made up by a majority of Council members, i.e. 5 of the total of 9).  As the Mayor’s monologue about what he would and would not approve from the peanut gallery continued and his tone became more hectoring and dictatorial and despite questions of his authority from some Councillors, the citizenry seated in the audience grew increasingly restive with the Mayor’s dismissal of their rights as they saw them and the tone became increasingly belligerent on both sides.  It should be noted that, from the outset of this part of the meeting, at least three uniformed RCMP Officers were in the “Council Chamber” and remained passive, despite the Mayor’s threat to have individuals removed from the room, and later to have the entire hall cleared.  In the end, the Mayor declared a recess and at this time four Councillors (Bestwick, Kipp, Fuller and Hong) left the room and the building and no quorum remained.  The meeting was declared ended.

The serious issue arising from this situation deals with the Mayor’s assertion of personal exclusivity when in the Chair, to define and enforce “personal decorum” from citizens in the audience.  Decorum is, of course, an ill-defined term the interpretation of which is left to the beholder. Decorum in a democratic society can be unruly, but goes with the territory. Section 133 of the Community Charter was proffered by the Mayor in defence of his statements (It must be remembered that his only real as opposed to blustered action was to was recess the meeting).  This disregarded the point drawn by Councillor Fuller, who referenced section 132(2) which overrides the Chair in the case of a vote by Council to rescind.

Extracts from the Community Charter: 

Authority of presiding member

132  (1) The mayor or the member presiding at a council meeting must preserve order and decide points of order that may arise, subject to an appeal under this section.

(2) On an appeal by a council member from a decision of the presiding member under subsection (1), the question as to whether the chair is to be sustained must be immediately put by the presiding member and decided without debate.

(3) As exceptions to section 123 [general voting rules],

(a) the mayor or other presiding member may not vote on a motion under subsection (2),

(b) the motion passes in the affirmative if the votes are equal, and

(c) the mayor or other presiding member must be governed by the result.

(4) If the mayor or presiding member refuses to put the question under subsection (2),

(a) the council must immediately appoint another member to preside temporarily,

(b) that other member must proceed in accordance with subsection (2), and

(c) a motion passed under this subsection is as binding as if passed under subsection (2).

Expulsion from meetings

133  (1) If the person presiding at a council meeting considers that another person at the meeting is acting improperly, the person presiding may order that the person is expelled from the meeting.

(2) If a person who is expelled does not leave the meeting, a peace officer may enforce the order under subsection (1) as if it were a court order.

Where things now Stand:

The authority of the presiding member as referenced in 132 and 133 is asserted by Mayor McKay, but it would seem to me that the responsibility of the Mayor in the Charter, section 116 (2-g) “(g) to reflect the will of council and to carry out other duties on behalf of the council;” indicates the primacy of Council over the Mayor. The Mayor has stated that he has had a legal opinion in this matter. If so, that opinion should be made both clear and public as soon as possible as this situation is very likely to arise again.

Because there was no quorum at the Council meeting to approve the appointment of a contractor to construct the new Colliery Dam spillway, the City was unable to provide the name of that contractor to the Provincial Comptroller of Water today (September 1). What may fall out of this failure to provide that information on the date demanded -despite the gaping holes in the process- remains to be seen.

Another meeting to attempt to bring the award to a vote has been set for tomorrow (Sep 2), in the VICC Conference Room at 1 pm. The question is, under the circumstances where much about the project remains to be defined, what can the contractor do immediately in any evnt? What is the rush which the Province is demanding and the City Administration is flogging about? The Colliery Dams affair has been poorly handled from the outset with decisions being made before the basic facts were known. This shoot from the hip, get the facts later, attitude has, and continues to, cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year (think of the Conference Centre, the Theatres, the SARC, etc. as well as this CD affair) and begin to ask how it is that we keep making the same types of mistakes over and over…. and how we can end this trend. Ending it won’t be easy and it may get even messier before our misguided ways are remedied.

We must find a way to restore trust and respect between the Public, our Councillors, our Mayor and our Senior Staff which can restore reason to a political environment which has descended to the level of a zero sum game in which the only way for one element to get ahead is to cause other players to lose.

What do you think?

The end