Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

Responsibility of Councillors with a Consent Agenda

Posted by auroracitizen on December 15, 2010

Last night was the first “working” meeting of the new Council. It was an interesting litmus test for what we can expect in the future.

For the background of readers who may be unfamiliar with the consent agenda format, allow me to explain (if you already know, please feel free to skip this paragraph). The intent of a consent agenda is for Councillors to ask question of clarification in advance so that if they support a motion, it can be approved without debate — hence saving time to focus on the more difficult issues and not wasting time or taxpayers dollars with needless politicking. Items should only be pulled that require debate because someone either; 1) disagrees or 2) would like to change the motion. In both cases, the Councillor would want to have the opportunity to engage fellow members of Council to see their point of view — the very essence of democracy. Items should never be pulled simply to ask questions that should have been asked in advance.

However, last term it became common practice for members of Council to pull items seemingly only to grill staff with endless questions and then approve the item as originally presented. Nothing is accomplished other than demonstrating to each other (and their supporters) how powerful they are. Oh yeah, plus taxpayers are on the hook for the cost of staff being there until all hours of the night (through lieu time), plus the poor morale we heard about during the election (which leads to people leaving and qualified candidates declining to apply for  the open position).

In keeping with the 7 years, Councillor Gaertner  arrived ill-prepared and asked more questions of staff than the entire balance of Council. On one item alone, 2010 Surplus/Deficit Control, she asked 11 question “for understanding”, while the balance of Council had no questions. Every question she asked was prefaced with something like, “could you explain” or I don’t understand”. The motion was subsequently approved unanimously without change.

After 7 years on Council, citizens might rightly ask why is she still struggling so hard to understand, and/or why doesn’t she ask these questions of staff in advance.  When Councillor Gaertner doesn’t do her research, then it wastes the time of the other 8 members of Council who did spend the time in advance to get their questions asked and answered. Each hour staff spends at a Council meeting responding to these questions is costing us lost productivity in others areas of their job.

So what is the solution?

  1. Councillor Gaertner needs to follow the lead of other Councillors and call staff on Monday/Tuesday, after having reviewed her agenda over the weekend and get the required answers from staff. Staff has always made themselves available to answer question in advance.
  2. If after having a clear understanding of the issue, she has a point of disagreement with the recommendation, she should certainly pull the item and share her thoughts with Council based on facts. If she is able to convince the others to her position the motion should be changed and then Council will vote accordingly.
  3. Mayor Dawe, supported by Council,  needs to insist that Councillors not waste the time of Council because they haven’t done their own homework. If  Councillors arrive unprepared, they have no right to waste the time of fellow Councillors and the public while they catch up so they are prepared to do the job we elected them and are paying them to do. Duties each Councillor swore an oath to execute.
  4. Lastly, members of the public need to write letters to the editor insisting that Councillors come to meetings prepared to do their job.

Just our thoughts.

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24 Responses to “Responsibility of Councillors with a Consent Agenda”

  1. evelyn.buck said

    “can she be fired”
    Indeed she cannot.

    As noted over four thousand people gave Councilllor Gaertner a vote of confidence. That gives her the right to be who she is.
    Councillor Gaertner is a person of tremendous, unquestioning, loyalty who seeks guidance from people she admires. She will continue to fill whatever role is assigned to her by the people she admires who are now lost to her as colleagues within Council,for as long as they choose to keep it up.If they care as much for her as she does for them, they will stop using her to create the problems at least one of them keeps forecasting.

  2. evelyn.buck said

    Councillor Gaertner may be more fastidious than anyone about readng every word of every report.
    There is genuine belief the job is to ask every question that occurs and do it in the public meeting.
    To an extent I agree. The problem lies in discerning questions relevant to public debate and trivia.
    Councilllor Granger insisted on speaking to every question. Few could comprehend his exact meaning.
    Councillor MacEachern monopolised most time Her questions had a different objective.
    The group had to be held together to maintain majority control. Much leeway was permitted to achieve that purpose.
    Rules of order permit one question to be asked. The purpose is to emphasize a debating point.
    What we had in the last four years bore no resemblance to any style of debate I have ever encountered.
    Rules are learned by doing. Much depends on competence and impartiality of the presiding member.
    If order is not maintained,there is no order. There is chaos. There’s not much point in anyone adhering to rules if everyone doesn’t.
    We had chaos for four years and not much better the three years prior
    I do not care for consent agendas. I refuse to move a recommendation because I pulled the “item” for discussion.
    Generally, recommendations are made by staff. Councillors are not bound to accept them. If the intent of pulling is to challenge a recommendation, having to recommend it to be able launch a challenge makes no sense.
    Our rules of order are not what they should be. Procedures also need to be clarified.
    Councillors are not completely to blame for the disorder of the last several years.The rules of order are far from clear.

    Brevity is the soul of wit(read intelligence)

    We have need of extensive editing.Definition is not more clear by the use five words where one would suffice.
    Above all, when nine people adopt rules to live by, no less than unanimous consent will do.

    • KA-NON said

      That is a very interesting point Evelyn. If I understand you correctly, an agenda item has to be moved (with a seconder) before it can be debated. Presents a couple of problems. First, there is the problem that you highlight re: having to move the item, an act which implies support, and second, having done so (with teeth clenched), there may not be a seconder (if the moving councillor is in fact the sole dissenting voice), thereby stifling debate entirely.

      Can the rule not change so that items pulled can be debated, without a mover and a seconder? Seems a trivial change to me, though admittedly I don’t understand all of the reasons that the current mover/seconder rule exists. If that change could be made, then a councillor could pull and item, and be assured of there opportunity to speak to the itm withiut having to themselves move an item that they do not in fact support.

      Is it even possible for Aurora to unilaterally change its own rules like this?

    • Really? said

      Brevity says Ev?! Do as I say and not as I do, I guess.

    • Anonymous said

      when i watch newmarket council they debate an item before its been moved and seconded…maybe aurora council could follow-suit.

  3. Winter's comin said

    Hello Curious!! before entering into this blog, IMO you need to bring your knowledge of basic rights of Canadians up to speed. Marital status, family status is strictly off limits unless volunteered by the individual themselves. Suggestion, leave us your address and I’ll send the Human Rights Police to your door for a chat. … wc.

  4. Curious said

    Do any of the bloggers to AuroraCitizen know Wendy Gaertner, well? What is her background, her education, her marital status? Does she have children, a job and if so doing what, and what experience does she bring to Aurora’s council table?

    It is quite incredible to me that this woman could be elected to any public office on the basis of her behaviour and apparent ignorance.

    So, what is her secret weapon?

    • Elizabeth Bishenden said

      Her marital status? Her job? Does she have children? What century are you from?

      The question at hand is her ability to be a Councillor.

      Deal with it, women are part of the 21st century.

    • Curious said

      Her ability to be a councillor is the question.

      One’s life experiences, personal and professional, shape us all and these questions are just as relevant as her level of education and her work experience,

      If a company is looking to hire people these questions are not merely for information but serve as a basis for decision making in the hiring process and in that person’s ultimate job performance.

      I am not only a part of the 21st century, I am a woman.

      Get a life, Elizabeth.

    • Luckywife said

      Cllr. Gaertner has a website: wendygaertner.ca where she lists her resume and some personal information.

      The marital status, whether or not they have children or a person’s gender has no bearing whatsoever on their qualifications to be a Councilor, and it’s nobody’s damn business!

      While I admit to being no fan of hers, over 4000 voters were impressed enough by her performance the last two terms to bring her back for a third. Judge her on the basis of her performance as a councilor and leave the personal out of it.

      Luckywife

    • Anonymous said

      Personal info, while perhaps interesting, is not relevant to whether or not someone can do the job of councillor, or any other job for that matter.

      That said, Elizabeth, I think that your reaction re: women and the 21st century is a non-sequitur. There is nothing in the question, either directly or via innuendo, that I can see which is gender-specific. Maybe, some years ago, asking whether a women had a job, is married, etc. might be construed as sexist. Not any more I don’t think, (I hope).

    • Sharon said

      Wendy was instrumental in running Hotspot for years in Aurora, one of the few successful programs for preteens. For that she deserves deep praise. It’s rare that you find anyone so committed to kids to have EVERY FRIDAY NIGHT chaperoning our little darlings. As a dedicated youth supervisor and volunteer, I thought Wendys voice on council would be a bonus for all. It’s time for

    • October Came, Thanks were Given said

      Impressed with her performance? Not so sure about that one.

      More likely that some of the now grown up young people that frequented the Hot Spot years ago, or their parents, recognized the name and threw in one of their eight votes.

      There was certainly very little about her performance or attitude last term, or for that matter so far this term, that would attract a cast of thousands.

    • Curious said

      Dear Luckywife:

      Surely our life experiences, from earliest childhood, through schooling, family, friends, work, all go into making us what we eventually become as adults. This includes close emotional relationships, marriage and having a family.

      I am not saying that gender, having children and marital status are the most important considerations in an employer’s assessment of a potential employee, but they certainly are a part, as they directly impact on one’s character, one’s outlook and one’s ability to make considered decisions.

      What I am saying applies to males as well as females.

      It is obvious that Wendy Gaertner has a big chip on her shoulder. I would like to know how it got there and what caused it. If her performance over the past few weeks is a prelude of her coming four year term on council Mayor Dawe is going to have his hands full dealing with an unnecessary problem, one that will cause an upset to the smooth harmonious team-work approach that he so clearly enunciated during his campaign and that he mentioned in his inaugural address.

      Mr. Ballard, a male, is also not getting off to the best of starts. And what chip sits on his shoulder?

    • Luckywife said

      To Curious:

      I probably shouldn’t comment on this subject. I have been a SAHM for over 20 years. I don’t know anymore what happens in a job interview. Some of what you suggest is important for an employer’s assesment of an applicant, doesn’t sit well with me. If I were applying for a job as an office clerk and I went on an interview and the person asked me if I am married or if I have children, I would freely and proudly share that information, with anyone. Does knowing that tell you that I am a good wife or a good mother? Does being a wife or a mother automatically make me a person of good character? Does that make me a better/worse job candidate than someone who is not married or a parent? How is that information relevant to my ability to be a good office clerk?

      Let’s be more specific using Cllr. Gaertner as an example. She is a wife and a mother. She has a BA in Sociology. She gave her time freely and lovingly to the youth of our community with HotSpot for many years before coming to council. Using your criteria, assessing character, outlook and ability to make considered decisions, one could easily assume that she would make an excellent Town Councilor.

      Strangely, she is not. I didn’t formulate that opinion of her based on her marital/parental status. I had no idea that she had a BA until I read it on her website months ago. I have never met her in person, all that I know of her comes from her performance at the council table. I don’t doubt that she is well meaning and of good character (I would not have said that about some of our previous members). I think she has alot to offer, but not as a councilor. At the committee level, focused on one or two specific goals, I could envision her doing very well. That’s why she was so successful with HotSpot. There are too many broad strokes to cover in a council. That’s why she seems unprepared, asks so many questions, zeroes in on insignificant details. Last term she focused her frustration and anger onto Cllr. Buck. She excelled at it. She was passionate about it. She didn’t waiver. For right now, she seems to be angry with everyone, the outcome of the election, the voters, the new Mayor, Staff, readers of The Auroran, bloggers on the AC… again, she is focused. Hopefully, she will come to terms with it soon and re-focus on to something that can actually benefit the taxpayers/Town and bring her more personal satisfaction. The path she is on now isn’t benefitting anyone, least of all her.

      Regards,
      Luckywife

    • Winter's comin said

      … LHW, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head and beautifully said. Hopefully it doesn’t take WG too long to focus on the fact she’s working for the Town Folk/Taxpayers. Self indulgence doesn’t cut it. So, you who, WG (and CB too), are you listening? We’re looking for cohension in this council. If that isn’t your purview, please bow out of the scene. We’ll understand if you need to go. Then we can look to someone else who CAN/WILL fulfill our expectations. Public patience and $$$ are not limitless!! … wc.

  5. Anonymous said

    I see your point – however, every other municipality operates the same way. many councillors ask questions and seek clarity in the public forum…i think this topic is much ado about nothing. If she just sat there and didnt ask any questions you’d likely point out she’s not doing her due diligence. I’m fine with her asking questions in the public forum.

  6. Broderick epps said

    One of the solutions offered “If after having a clear understanding of the issue, she (Wendy G)has a point of disagreement with the recommendation, she should certainly pull the item and share her thoughts with Council based on facts. If she is able to convince the others to her position the motion should be changed and then Council will vote accordingly.”
    Give your head a shake! Wendy Gaertner having the ability to have a sound argument for anything?
    Able to convince others? What are you smoking?

  7. JOHN H SARGENT said

    I think maybe if public expressed their thoughts in open form on issues of this nature would also be a great benefit ..I hear a lot of people only speak of Mrs Buck wasting time ,well names like Wendy G, Steve G, Evelyn M, AL W, Philis M come to mind yet 4 of these names gone for now..Lets give MAYOR DAWES a chance to set a agenda for meetings..Councilors should be somewhat prepared for meetings if they have paperwork before hand JS

  8. One more time around the block said

    What about a topic….

    Responsibility of Councillors with a Constant Agenda

    Seems that Ms Buck is up to her old tricks again.

    • Anonymous said

      Yes isn’t it wonderful , nice to see she’s doing exactly what 5000 + voters asked her to do , you gotta love it

  9. Now I have a question. If she continues to be like that and ‘waste’ time – its harsh question, but I have to ask: can she be fired from her job as councillor?

    Anna

    • One who Knows said

      Some people are just slow learners and old habits are hard to break but once she gets a taste of the new way of doing things, one of two things will happen, A The light might just click on or B the pace will be moving so rapidly she will be lost in the dust, A or B nothing will be lost , just wait and see!

    • Anonymous said

      Nothing frustrates me more than anyone attending a meeting unprepared. She is renowned for wasting time asking questions and seeking information that should have been confirmed prior to the meeting so that she is ready and able to participate in INFORMED DISCUSSION AND DEBATE. There is no excuse for unpreparedness rgeardless of what your position is. There is also no excuse on the basis that during the last 4 years (or more) she got away with this type of incompetence because there never was proper discussion or debate.
      That was then, this is now. Get with the program Wendy and stop wasting everyone’s time!

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