A BYLAW TO ESTABLISH THE RULES OF PROCEDURE FOR COUNCIL, COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE AND COMMITTEE MEETINGS
Ron Bolin: September 16, 2018
On August 28, the public was invited to a meeting at Beban Park to hear about and discuss the draft for an updated Procedure Bylaw:
“The current bylaw was adopted in 2007 and has had three amendments made using recommendations from a governance review conducted in 2013. We decided a good approach to incorporating identified areas of improvements and further recommendations from the governance review would be to completely rewrite the bylaw.”
City of Nanaimo
This Bylaw spells out the procedures governing the meetings of the various parties involved, i.e. Council Members, Staff and the Public. A Draft Bylaw was presented during that meeting marked by a discussion of the Background to the legal requirements with emphasis on the following document:
The draft bylaw introduced at that meeting is not, to the best of my knowledge, available on line and a request for a documented edit copy of the bylaw which shows the parts which have been added, subtracted or otherwise edited in a single document was denied stating that such a copy was not ready but would be available for the September 24 Committee of the Whole meeting when it was expected to be introduced. In a related matter, at this coming Monday’s (Sept. 17) Committee of the Whole meeting, a motion to suppress the broadcast of all Council meetings until after the election is on the agenda. If this motion passes, discussion of the Procedure Bylaw which has been scheduled for Sept. 24, will be lost to any who cannot attend either the COW meeting of Sept. 24, or the two last remaining meetings of the present Council on October 1 or 15th and the public will be serviced only by the official or unofficial media interpretations of what happened. The Procedure Bylaw gives the rules of our political game. It deserves full public participation.
The PUBLIC and the PROCEDURE BYLAW
The public should take note of several areas with regard to their regular participation in Nanaimo’s governance process:
Section 5.2(a) of the current Procedure Bylaw designates that Regular Council Meetings will be held on the first and third Monday of each month with the exception of January in which no meeting will be held on the first Monday and July and August in which only one meeting will be held on the second Monday of the month.
The choice of Mondays for Council meetings means that some 20% of the available meeting days are unavailable due to the frequency with which holidays are observed on Mondays, amounting to about 10 Mondays a year, i.e. 10 out of 52 weeks are removed due to holidays, not to mention the occasions on which the Monday schedule is affected due to the annual FCM, UBCM or AVICC conferences.
Both the public and the candidates for the upcoming election should consider whether, under these conditions, another day of the week (some other BC municipalities meet on Thursdays) should become the meeting date of record. Nanaimo is now a large and complex municipality. Can we afford so many Council holidays and such long agendas and late meeting times?
Council meeting agendas are dealt with in Section 15 of the current Procedure Bylaw. Section 15.4 provides that the members of Council and the public will receive the agenda for the following Mondays Council meeting by 4pm on the preceding Tuesday. This leaves only 3 or 4 business days in which the Council and the public can discover what is going to happen at the meeting which, in turn, limits the time available for consideration prior to getting to the meeting. I think we have all found ourselves in the position of discovering some important issue after it is too late to take the necessary steps to form a considered opinion. This is much more prevalent in dealing with general governance than with specific development or zoning type questions which are of immediate importance to those applying for variances and who will be guided by Staff to the date on which their subject will be dealt with.. And I think we may all have our suspicions, correctly or incorrectly that, like us, Councillors may not have had sufficient time for their due diligence prior to a meeting… and little wonder given the size of many agendas and short time given by the agenda before a meeting.
It is suggested that a pre-agenda for the coming meeting(s) be included with each agenda which would provide guidance on the issues which will be upcoming soon. This would give both Council and the Public time to consider the information which they may need to gather prior to its appearance on an imminent agenda and allowing them to prioritize their efforts related to such items.
The new Procedure Bylaw should lead to the immediate dismissal of any request for funding at a Council meeting which was not revealed in the request for delegation published in the originally distributed agenda on the Tuesday preceding. Neither Council nor the public should be subject to surprise funding requests.
Minutes of Meetings are vital records of the actions that were taken during a meeting of Council, of the Committee of the Whole, or Committee Meetings. There is to be no action recorded in the minutes which did not take place at that meeting. All that took place at a meeting is over as soon as the meeting is over and minutes are the record of that meeting. Actionable matters that take place at a meeting are represented by motions either of Staff or of Council and minutes record the result of any and all motions made as either passing or failing. I see no excuse for minutes not being available within, at most, two working days of a meeting… That is any meeting covered by the Procedure Bylaw… in a provisional form, i.e. as Provisional Minutes which will not become the official minutes until adopted at the next meeting. To their credit, Staff has undertaken to sometimes provide a casual overview of proceedings but without force of bylaw.
This needs to be regularized in the revised Procedure Bylaw. It will be noted in the agenda for the meeting of September 17 that minutes will be adopted from as long ago as 2017-NOV-01… This means that the public was not even semi-officially aware of what happened in that meeting for some 10 months, let alone given the opportunity to discuss or question its decisions. Granted, this is an exception, but delays in meeting minutes of from one to two months are common. This needs to stop.
Official recognition of the other Council Record, the much more detailed, but much more time consuming and ambiguously situated video record, which currently exists as much by chance as by design is also needed. The history of minute taking goes back centuries to a time when detailed written minute taking of a meeting by a recording secretary was the only method for recording discussions or decisions made by public bodies for the public and for posterity. One can imagine that the picking and choosing which this required in the absence of a word for word transcription offered considerable latitude.
Film and video have offered significant improvements in the ability of the public to see their governors in greater perspective by full time action. If my memory serves, video came to Nanaimo some years ago as a part of Shaw Cables public service content which I believe was a part of their application for service here. Those who remember the days of Council meetings in City Hall or at the RDN remember the cameras taping meetings which were presented to those on Shaw’s cable service. The tapes were available for copy upon request for a couple of weeks following a meeting after which they were reused for a later meeting. (I still have a copy made by Shaw which I requested of a Council meeting on Feb. 14, 1994. It can be seen at the end of the following post from November of 2017: https://nanaimocityhall.com/2017/11/20/quis-custodiet-ipsos-custodes-2/
When the VICC was built Shaw Cable installed professional video equipment and provided Staff for its operation during Council meetings as well as at other sponsored events in the Shaw Auditorium which now serves as our Council Chambers unless another patron needs the room. Much has changed and improved in permitting the public to take part in their governance with the adoption of broad video service to the public and Nanaimo deserves credit for what they have accomplished in the way of technology.
Video was also introduced, less than professionally, in the Board Room of the SARC building and can be used for smaller meetings. I am not aware of an official policy or procedure dealing with the use of video in that facility –or by other Committees created by Council.
In this regard I suggest that:
Minutes of all Meetings covered by the Procedure bylaw be available on line within 2 working days of any such meeting.
Video Recordings of Council Meetings be embodied in the Procedure Bylaw as official Council records and be kept as such and not be subject to editing without court approval, or to neglect.
Meetings of other Committees established by Council should be recognized in the Procedure Bylaw with regard to their status for video capture. I believe that such a policy is in place for the Finance and Audit Committee which is composed solely of Council members and selected Staff.
Questions, Question Period and outstanding Reports:
Questions posed to Council and or Staff either by Councillors, by a delegation or by a citizen during question period which are not explicitly refused, but are referred for future response should be noted in the minutes. Response to those questions should be printed in the agenda or the minutes of the next available meeting, and a list of the unanswered questions remaining should likewise be maintained and printed in the agenda and/or minutes of each relevant meeting.
At least once a month a list of outstanding Reports from Staff or from consultants should indicate the expected timelines for receipt of those reports and should be found in the agenda and/or the minutes of the relevant meeting.
These suggestions may enhance the Public’s ability to understand what goes on in their name at City Hall by permitting a less tedious means of keeping track of what is happening there. If we are going to rewrite our Procedure Bylaw, let’s give some more consideration to the public in the spirit of Public Service.
Comments, questions and suggestions for further improvements are sought… See below for the place to respond,,,