Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

New Procedural Bylaw Being Discussed

Posted by auroracitizen on March 6, 2011

In Councillor Ballard’s blog he discusses the new procedural bylaw currently under discussion. Possibly this is the type of unbiased reporting that some readers of this blog are looking for.

He  identifies concern with a number of key areas (comments are from his blog);

  1. Limit who can delegate before Council,
  2. Remove the requirement of a delegate’s need to give advance notice, (Council will have no advance knowledge of why a delegate is speaking at a General Council meeting and, therefore, may not be well informed to ask questions, discus the matter intelligently, and be unable to make an informed decision),
  3. Not allow delegates to speak at a Council meeting (which is broadcast on Cable), and only allow delegates to speak at Council’s General Committee meeting (which is not broadcast via Cable),
  4. Drastically shorten a Councillor’s ability to speak to an item from 30 minutes to five minutes. Complex issues may not be fully explored by Councillors before decisions are made,
  5. Only allow residents, not businesses, to speak at Open Forum even though businesses are taxpayers, too.

There seems to be a fundamental flaw in his whole argument — and that is the seeming lack of understanding of the difference between a General Committee (GC) meeting and a Council meeting.

A Council meeting is too late to be gathering information. That is the purpose of committee meetings. That is where delegates should come forward and present various sides of the argument — where and when Councillors have the opportunity to ask questions. Then, Councillors have a week for “sober second thought”, plus the ability to check facts, dig deeper and come to the formal Council meeting ready to debate the issues based on their research. There is no move afoot to limit who can delegate to Council — just to have the delegate appear at a time and place where their information can best be received and considered.

Imagine arriving at a meeting where you are expected to make a decision and only then start to ask questions. That is the whole issue with the ongoing practice by Councillor Gaertner with her questions — she seems more interested in performing for the TV audience versus getting the facts for decision-making. Everyone else has done their research, asked their questions and are ready to debate the merits of various points of view before arriving at the Council meeting. Councillor Gaertner seems to be a week behind.

It is also a key reason why last term reports and decisions were either deferred or sent back to staff so often. It reflected the facts that too many Councillors were arriving without their research completed and ill-prepared to make a decision.

Insisting that the GC meeting be used as the information gathering session and that Councillors arrive at the Council meeting ready and prepared to publicly debate the issue –televised for all to see — make sense. What benefit is gained by having delegates speak at a meeting that is on TV. We are more interested in hearing what our elected Councillors have to say than listening to the biased, self-interested pleas of every special interest group that comes before Council. We want to hear how our elected representatives view the topic — which we hope will be debated on merits they have researched and in the best interest of the entire community — not just the special interest group.

Further, if meetings were shorter, more people might tune in and find out what is going on in town.

Also, has anyone ever heard of a Councillor in Aurora ever speaking for 30 minutes on a single issue at one time? If you can’t make your point in 5 minutes — may be you need to figure out what you want to say before you start talking.

The real basis for his discussion seems to be based on someone representing “the opposition”. This may be standard operating procedure at the Provincial and Federal levels — but many Canadians are finding the “if it’s your idea, it must be wrong” philosophy behind the party system to be a poor use of time and resources. At the municipal level we hope for a more collaborative debate — versus the confrontational environment that Councillors Ballard and Gaertner seem to be striving for.

On another note, if Council demanded that a delegate could only speak if they provided advance notice — Councillor Ballard would probably have said that was limiting input because of the requirement for advance notice. Sometimes you just can’t win for trying — but that’s just our bias 🙂

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18 Responses to “New Procedural Bylaw Being Discussed”

  1. Sound Familiar? said

    http://www.thestar.com/news/article/955165–rookie-councillor-insists-on-her-right-to-blog?bn=1

    • Anonymous said

      A grandstanding councillor who plays fast and loose with the facts in a blog to make herself look better?

      You bet that sounds familiar.

    • Anonymous said

      To Anonymous 9:43 pm:

      It does sound familiar.

      Playing fast and loose with the facts sounds like Clr. Ballard’s blog.

  2. veritas said

    After watching last night’s council meeting I would like to say “Thank God for councillor Thompson.” How refreshing to hear his comprehensive thoughtful, factual, analytical, logical argument concerning the procedural by-law review. He obviously does his homework and prepares well. I wish some others would follow his example.

    I almost choked on my munchies listening to the gobbledegook from a few others, especially councillor Gallo as he launched into the nonsense about open vs closed chamber doors. I have attended many council meetings and have found the noise from the foyer very distracting. I can’t believe that he tried to spin that the closing of doors implied that the public would not feel welcome or that something covert was going on behind the doors. I think Mayor Dawe was absolutely correct when he referred the hyperbole that has surrounded this motion but we expected hyperbole from those quarters, didn’t we?

    I really don’t think that people listen. There is nothing in the review that prohibits input from the people. Changing the forum between general committee and regular council makes no difference, in fact, process-wise it makes more sense (as councillor Abel eloquently stated). The audience is the same – the council.

    I just don’t get what the hype is about cameras or no cameras, unless you are a budding starlet hoping to get your start on TV – any TV!! There are all kinds of news media to remain abreast of what is presented/discussed by whom. For the TV junkies, perhaps Rogers could be persuaded to be present at both types of meetings. OR for anyone REALLY interested or concerned about something how about actually attending the meeting in person? Now there’s a novel idea!!

    I didn’t get the open forum nonsense either. The issue as I understood it was whether to have comments on the record or not. Councillor Thompson took care of the argument very eloquently. We know well from last term how open forum was abused.

    I was dismayed by the comments from 4 councillors and delegates which were tantamount to tantrums from children whose toys were about to be taken away. I say to those 4, “Grow up!” Your toys are still there but you were too busy screaming to see it!!

    • Pandemonium said

      To: Veritas

      Excellent comments.

      Would you consider running for a Council seat next time?

      We need more thinkers and fewer whiners.

    • Tim the Enchanter said

      Spot on Veritas

      Because they don’t make the effort to become informed on the issues some councillors resort to guessing about what will be the popular choice in town.
      They accepted a delegation (equally uninformed as it turned out) as proof positive that Aurorans were upset at ‘losing’ their right to speak out so they jumped that way – despite the facts as so eloquently presented by Clr Thompson.
      The result?
      Gallo’s weak non-sensical argument about closed doors and Gaertner’s clumsy spin attempt that Aurora should be proud that we conduct business different than everyone else.

    • Anonymous said

      I was impressed and heartened to hear councillor Thompson use the word “compromise.” I think that is a word that was never uttered (or probably understood)from the mouths of the last ruling regime. There is no consensus building without willingness to compromise. Once again, I hope that those hanging onto the previous 4 years, steeped in stubbornness, are taking note and learning!

  3. Anonymous said

    The Town of Aurora should contemplate adopting what Newmarket does for meetings. I have attended Newmarket Council on a few occasions. Delegations must be registered for both their general committee and council, but anyone can speak to a matter if its on the agenda and are limited to 5 minutes.

    they allot a time period before the meeting starts (I think its 15 minutes) for what we call open forum… Its not on their agenda. If a matter gets brought up that needs to be dealt with, councillors raise it under new business.

    frankly, why re-invent the wheel! it seems to be working in Newmarket.

    • Democracy...in Newmarket? said

      What, Newmarket’s meetings are efficient, and effective….even democratic?

      Someone better alert our Clr. Bullard and Wendy too!

      This may not be the “gold standard” that the councilor has come to expect from last term, but I’d love for him to explain to us in Aurora how Newmarket is undermining democracy, as he is so convinced we are set to do here.

    • Anonymous said

      I watched Newmarket’s council meeting on Rogers last night. What a pleasure it was and how different from what we have become accustomed to in Aurora. I suggest G,G and B take a look.

    • I too have had the pleasure to witness Newmarket council in action on a couple of occasions. Their staff also are very helpful to make sure your issue is steered through proceedings.

      I suggest that all Aurora councillors look at it. Not just the GOT (Gang of Three).

      Fuimus

  4. Anonymous said

    Oh, yes, I forgot something in my comments.
    The “on camera/not on camera” thing is nothing more than a red herring. I don’t give a you-know-what about whether cameras are rolling or not. It is irrelevant to the argument. What I do want is clear, concise, efficient use of time to get through agendas and make decisions instead of the infinite unpreparedness, time-wasting questions and referring back to staff.

  5. Anonymous said

    I am so glad that someone has had the initiative to review the procedural by-law. Perhaps meetings of council will finally operate in a concise, crisp businesslike manner instead of the uncontrolled, time wasting, meandering and perseverating mess that they have been for a long time.
    I agree that it makes sense for delegations to present before council at GC meetings rather than council meetings for the reasons stated above, i.e. that it is the appropriate forum to gather information and ask questions so that a decision can be made later at a council meeting. This sequence simply makes more sense.

    Re time constraints: One of my greatest frustrations has been the disregard for the time limits that go with delegating. Delegates have 5 minutes but rarely does any stay withing that paramter. I say, if you cannot say what you have to say within the allotted time, don’t delegate. It’s as simple as that. Everyone should have respect for the rules and people’s time.

    As far as having adequate time for each councillor to debate issues, I have never seen any reason to allot 30 minutes per person. Councillors are permitted to speak twice to an issue; that potentially means that they could go on and on for an hour each. Not practical, not sensible, not necessary! The key is, once again, if councillors do their homework, which they are being paid to do, and are prepared at council meetings, of course a thorough debate can be conducted in the recommended time frame of 5 minutes. It all boils down once again to conciseness instead of wasting time with endless questions and repetitive comments.

    I am certainly in favour of making changes. It’s more than overdue. However, having worked for organizations that have had to go through major changes and listening to a slew of change management consultants during that time, I remember one comment: change can happen only at the speed of its slowest team member. The ones that resist change and fight hard to hang onto the “old” and cannot embrace “the new”. The greatest obstacles here are the 3 mentioned above, Gallo, Gaertner and Ballard, all of whom seem incapable of cutting the apron strings and moving forward. It should be clear to all of them that what is, doesn’t work vis a vis council meetings. I challenge them to step up to the plate, embrace change, show initiative and think to the future, not the past. I challenge them to demonstrate that they can be other than the slowest, most obstructive team members.

    I had to chuckle at part of the Ballard quote: “… may not be well informed to ask questions, discus the matter intelligently, and be unable to make an informed decision)”
    We would like ALL councillors to “discus (sic) intelligently.” It sure as hell ain’t happening now in 2 or 3 places at the table and this is a major part of what is bogging everything down!

  6. Evelyn Buck said

    Councillor Gaertner believes it is a councillor’s responsibility to ask questions in public for the public to hear answers.
    Since she was first elected it has been the pattern on Council. Almost the entire time taken on any issue last term, was by Councillor MacEachern, with full support of the chair.
    First staff would be interrogated then hand-written resolution or half-assed amendment would be laboriously written at the table, usually for an opposite direction to a staff recommendation, and the chair would put it to a vote, sight unseen.
    Councillor MacEachern was Councillor Gaertner’s idol. She never saw Council function any other way.
    Delegations were invited to come to Council to ask for town money or just for exposure for their cause on television. So the Mayor could be seen to be a friend of all those in need. If the didn’t get whet they asked for, it would not be for want of trying on the Mayor’s part.
    There was a time limit to file for delegation status. The purpose was required to be stated.The information was part of the agenda.
    Then the time limit was shortened and no purpose stated,
    There was a five minute limit to speak. Then three people could speak on the issue, each taking five minutes.Just recently Yvonne Catrell, informed the chairman of the process.
    Then councillors’ could ask questions and provide the delegate unlimited extended time for answers. And always at the end, was an invitation to provide a phone number for contact.
    The town’s business came last and was given short shrift.
    The fight for due process was exhausting and finally abandoned. They had the numbers if not the understanding of the function of an elected council.
    Years of failure to acknowledge the need for civility has seriously eroded any semblance of order in Aurora Council Chamber. In the last four years it vanished completely.The claws were out and fangs bared at all times.
    It won’t be easy to get back from that.
    We maun but try.

    • JOHN H SARGENT said

      Mrs E Buck.. Do not keep trying to wake up the sleeping bears sent into mandatory hibernation. :)..Who did what in council chambers in past is not the issue for discussion,it whats to be done in chambers this term .. down the road in years to come there likely to be different ideas for procedure bylaws… Its the now that is at stake not the past or the future as it could change..There are issues of the past to be dealt with yet, but a new procedure bylaw is about how meetings etc are to be led and maintained my the Mayor and Conciliar s of the day ..

    • Anonymous said

      I agree with Mr. Sargent. Don’t dwell on what was was but use this as an opportunity to put right and who knows we may actually end upwith an efficient, effective council like Newmarket.

    • KA-NON said

      John and Anon,
      I largely agree with you re: focusing on the present, however, it is useful to examine the past for real-life examples to support a (contemplated) act of the present. Ms. Buck is both in possession of the lessons of the past and more than willing to share them, and I applaud her for that.

  7. Dollars and sense said

    Democratic governments have as their single fundamental responsibility the representation of the electorate’s needs expressed through the expenditure of public monies.

    This is achieved through the preparation and passage of a budget.

    Federal and provincial governments have large and sophisticated ministries of finance where much of the budget preparation occurs. Individuals, corporations, institutions and other levels of government have the right to “lobby” for their pet project and they all do with regularity. But there is only a finite number of dollars available each year to meet society’s needs and there is a constant struggle under way to accomplish the right mix.

    The two senior levels of government are able to operate with deficits from time to time; eventually they must balance the books or their credibility as debtors is eroded and their borrowing costs rise.

    Municipalities must generally balance their budgets. Only the very largest have the opportunity to borrow through bond issues on the financial markets. Thus they are forced to cover higher operating costs by raising property taxes, often at the outrage of taxpayers.

    In Aurora there have been several public and non-public meetings in recent weeks devoted to the budget for the year that is now almost 20% over. There is no final budget for 2011. And yet contracts are being awarded, grants being given, expenditures being made.

    The main thrust of the Procedural Bylaw under discussion is essentially how to deal with people who want money from the town.

    Anyone, or any group or organization that wants money from the town must establish a real need for the project, the cost of same, and the return, if any, in real or intangible terms. There should be a set of forms available from the Treasurer’s office that serve as a template for the sorts of information required. The completed form should be returned to the office of the Treasurer who will then circulate it to appropriate staff for comment. Once the comment has been made the Treasurer’s office shall complete a simple opinion, pro or con and circulate all relevant documents to members of Council.

    At this point a delegation can proceed on to the agenda of a forthcoming General Committee meeting. It is here that members of Council will have the opportunity, more informally, to ask questions and raise concerns. The delegate should be limited to five minutes of presentation time and if there is a drift in the question/answer process the Chair should have the right to arbitrarily give notice of “x” minutes remaining.

    No councillor should require more than 5-10 minutes to speak to an item, at the Chair’s discretion.

    Cable broadcast should not be an issue.

    Councillors Ballard and Gaertner, and more often than not, Councillor Gallo, appear to be grandstanding for some personal reason. There is no earthly reason why councillors can not conduct the business of the town in an impartial and objective manner in the best interests of all Aurora.

    The results of last October’s election demonstrate that you can’t fool the people all the time.

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