Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

What is the Appropriate Role of a Citizen Committee?

Posted by auroracitizen on March 11, 2011

There has been some discussion about the appropriate role of a citizen committee in a number of blog comments, so we thought we would ask the question directly.

Currently there are legislated committees such as the Library Board or Cemetery Board which are not the focus of this post– but could provide some ideas about roles.

This discussion is intended to focus around discretionary committees that are set up by Council to solicit and encourage community input — such a Leisure Service or Economic Development or Financial.

Here are some questions to get the conversation started. We are sure you will have more.

  1. Should a committee have a budget? If so, who would be accountable for the budget?
  2. Should Council members sit on advisory committees or should it be only citizens? Will citizens defer to Council members if they are part of the committee?
  3. Who should the committee report to — Council directly or should they go through staff?
  4. What role should staff play on the committee?
  5. Should staff be asked to comment on all committee recommendations prior to coming to Council?
  6. Should committee recommendations be vetted by staff before presentation to Council?
  7. Is Council under any obligation to follow recommendations from an advisory committee?
  8. Who is the committee accountable to? Are they accountable to anyone or are they independent?

Also, what committees do you think Aurora should have? Is there an area that is missed?


FOOTNOTE: What started as an intelligent discussion quickly degenerated into name-calling and insults. The moderators have removed all such comments. Sorry folks, but our attempts to let everything through continues to backfire.

34 Responses to “What is the Appropriate Role of a Citizen Committee?”

  1. Veritas said

    To Anonymous, Anonymoose, Fair’s Fair, Frank, Evelyn Buck, Chris Watts and Wisely
    Could you please explain what your most recent comments have to do with the topic about the “Role of a Ctizen Committee”?
    If you wish to debate who said what and whether it was offensive why don’t you start a new post and do it there? You seem to have totally squashed the discussio about committees here.
    Matt Maddocks, as anonymous posters seemto be a bee in your bonnet, why don’t you submit a post about just what your “bees” are so that it can be discussed there and not here?
    I was looking forward to intelligent discussion on THIS topc not a slew of others. It is ome thing to go off at a tangent but this is hijacking a topic in my opinion.
    If you don’t wish to participate in discussing the posted topic, please go elsewhere, i.e. start another post, and discuss whatever is pn your mind, there.
    Thank you.

    • Matt Maddocks said

      Good point Veritas,


    • Evelyn Buck said

      Tut Tut Tut

      What have we here? A paragon of virtue?

      I don’t think so.

      I have never felt being elected to office compelled me to submit to abuse from every jack ass who could pick up a pen or tap out words on a keyboard.

      Yet I have exercised remarkable restraint in the face of a constant onslaught of insults from a variety of anonymous posters to this blog.

      I am entirely within my rights to give back as good as I get in an occasional generic fashion.

      What a hullabulloo of squealing and yelping in return.

      If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen. And a blog fills the bill as well as any kitchen I have ever seen.

      What do you think this is? the Book of Solomon?

    • Well intentioned said

      Veritas is right on the bullseye.

      Many posters start out on topic but eventually the conversation deteriorates to personal slanging and the original subject disappears into a miasma of mud and abusive personal invective. This accomplishes nothing but confusion and bitterness.

    • Pot. Kettle. Black. said

      “What a hullabulloo of squealing and yelping in return.”

      Exhibit A: “I doubt you intended to offend me deeply. Yet you did. The connotation of the word “rambling” in relation to a person of my years is extremely hurtful.One might even say cruel and damaging.”

      p.s. Veritas, “Could you please explain what your most recent comments have to do with the topic about the “Role of a Citizen Committee”?”. Hoist on your own petard, methinks.

    • Anonymous said

      @ Well Intentioned – welcome to the internet!

    • Wisely said

      Bravo Evelyn well said, but is anybody listening

    • Veritas said

      I agree with Well Intentioned.
      It seems that whenever a new topic is posted and a good discussion gets going, there is always someone to steer it off the rails and it does degenerate into a slanging match.
      I vote for interesting, diverse discussion here. Leave the slang and insults out of it. Isn’t that, afterall, what we are demanding of council and why we voted out the last administration?

  2. Evelyn Buck said

    “Fed Up Already” reveals an interesting perspective,
    The sting of Chris Watts response obviously cut deep.

    That the force of his reaction was to Fed Up’s comments is not so readily realised.
    You cannot write what you might say without magnifying offence.
    Writing has ten times the power.
    Fed Up refers to how “tired” he/she is of my “rambling”
    I doubt you intended to offend me deeply. Yet you did. The connotation of the word “rambling” in relation to a person of my years is extremely hurtful.One might even say cruel and damaging.
    No-one needs to be tired from reading. There is an obvious option.
    Slagging has to begin somewhere.
    Chris Watts language is sharp and incisive.It cuts to the core.
    Language is what we do here.
    A response is the risk we take when we offer an opinion. It’s even greater when we identify ourselves.
    Whining is not more attractive than slagging.

    It adds nothing to the tone No points are earned.

    Get a grip, Fed Up.

    Exercise some discipline.

    • Anonymoose said

      I think it takes slightly more ‘discipline’ to restrain the urge to fire off intentional insults at other people.

      You may not like what Fed Up said, but he had a good point, and he was not intending to be ‘cruel and damaging’, Unfortunately it would be difficult to say the same for the response he got in return.

      [ goodness, this is my third post in 20 minutes. do you suppose any of them will get published ]

    • Anonymous said

      “Chris Watts language is sharp and incisive.”

      So says you. I think resulting to ad hominem attacks to make a point is lazy writing.

      Could it be you’re just sore that posters here are saying they don’t like yours or Watts’s method of personally attacking anyone who doesn’t share your viewpoints as opposed to the fawning audience you had here pre-election?

      The voters called for civility in the last election, something you are showing you’re incabable of living up to.

    • Wisely said

      I always enjoy Chris’s posts event when I don’t agree with them. Funny and to the point.

      Keep it up…

    • Get a Grip? said

      Councillor Buck, I read the comments and didn’t see anything inflammatory or cruel. I think you doth protest too much.

    • Really? said

      Ah, come on Evelyn. “cruel and damaging”, really? Those comments just expressed an opinion different from your own. I didn’t see anything harsher than what you deal out daily, so I don’t understand why you claim to be hurt?
      You’re made of stronger stuff than that!

  3. auroracitizen said

    What started as an intelligent discussion quickly degenerated into name-calling and insults. The moderators have removed all such comments (10 of 23).

    Sorry folks, but our attempts to let everything through continues to backfire.

    • Matt Maddocks said

      Well done AC.

      These discussions seem to degenerate only once certain “hidden” posters become involved. Maybe it’s time to put something in place to make folks a little more accountable for their words??

    • Anonymoose said

      Thank you AC. Good decision. Though I’m surprised about one of my comments you pulled. I think it was completely relevant. Especially in light of this comment. I’m going to repost it below and, if you do not publish it, ask for a rational.

      The AC is a popular site, and I’d love to see it truly become a place where we can all exchange ideas. It is going to take work on the part of AC to curb its own bias, work on the part of moderators to be diligent regarding enforcing posting standards, and work on the part of posters to keep their own emotions in check.


      It was interesting to read the speculation in these pages recently that people are not posting as much here due to the threat of lawsuits. I don’t actually think that is true. I have chosen a pseudonym because I see to much aggressive and insulting behaviour here, and I really don’t want to experience that directed at me personally. Frankly I think it is this behaviour of some of the people who do post here that is responsible for other people not wanting to participate more. Not the threat of a lawsuit.

    • Anonymoose said

      “These discussions seem to degenerate only once certain “hidden” posters become involved.”

      Matt I disagree. I tend to think most of my posts are fairly respectful, and I’m “hidden”. In my opinion the worst offenders not only use their real names, but they have their own blogs too. As long as that is the case, I think there will be a significant number of voices with good things to say who will choose not to participate if anonymity is not an option.

    • Fair's Fair said

      As you’ve seen fit to remove a raft of comments, I find Evelyn Buck’s of this morning at 7:58 to be rather incongruous. Since the comments of Fed Up Already and Christopher Watts that she addresses have been excised, we can no longer reference Cllr Buck’s emotional reaction in context. We’re only now able to see one person’s perspective on a thread that evoked multiple responses.

      I also wonder if what some considered a scathing rebuke by Christopher Watts had gone unchallenged, would it have remained on the blog. Wasn’t the time for censoring/not posting comments really when his was awaiting moderation?

      It’s a slippery slope…

    • Matt Maddocks said

      I believe it’s a heck of a lot easier on the brain and the conscience to write mean offensive things both in response to, and from the keyboard of, anonymous posters. In other words, you don’t know who these people are, so who are you really offending? The fact that you might be sitting and chatting beside them on the train the next morning, or standing next to them in the grocery store, or living beside them for the past 5 years, means nothing, because on the blog, they’re all just ghosts. Unknowns. Ethereal bits of digital goo, hiding and throwing comments willy-nilly, ‘cause no one gets hurt – really. Sign off and go about your day. Who knows? Maybe it’s all the same person posting under 10 different names. Maybe it’s not. So really, it doesn’t matter what gets said and to who.

      What I do know, is that you all know who I am. I’ve identified myself. That bears accountability in two ways; I won’t cast comments or posts that I can’t stand behind, or couldn’t say directly to your face, nor would I expect any other poster who comments under their real name to direct deliberately uncivil statements towards me. If I or they ever did, there would exist an expectation that we’d each have to deal with those comments the next time we did see each other in the checkout line.

      That’s the crux of it for me. Anonymous posters can skew the discussion, and are completely capable of altering the climate of true and honest debate. Personally, it leaves me cold, and with no desire to engage in the conversation. I’ve made it clear before that advocating against anonymous postings is a personal bias of mine, so my comments here should come as no surprise.

      Under the current submission requirements (or lack thereof) of this blog, an anonymous poster can say to me “Matt, I disagree”. Fine. And I can respond…how? To someone whose name I do not know, who cloaks themselves in an alias? A man? A woman? A child? A preacher? A scientist? A homemaker? A councilor? I would love to be able to discuss and debate with you. But I cannot, and will not, if you do not afford me the same basic human contact info that I provide. Providing my name makes me “real” in this blogosphere. An identity that anyone can look up and verify. I really exist, and you can find me, speak to me, look me in the eye.

      Being respectful in your delivery of words and comments is fine, and speaks to the personality and morals of the poster. But I cannot get past the hypocrisy that exists (to me anyway) when someone posts a well-stated, well thought out point of view, only to then weaken their position by doing so while hiding. I suppose there will always be those who feel that the only way they’re comfortable posting is to do from an anonymous stance, but isn’t one of the goals of true freedom of speech, the ability to stand up, be recognized, and state your position without fear of reprisal?

      Just my opinion, in my own words.

    • Frank said

      I agree with Anonymoose at 8:06 and 8:11. (sorry, have to clarify my agreement where the moose is concerned!)
      I also agree with Fair’s Fair. I read the previous thread, but I’m sure others have not, so to keep Evelyn’s comment up is not fair.
      Fed Up Already made some good points and I didn’t take his comments as abusive. He responded to Chris Watt’s over the top comment by simply clarifying what he did say without Chris’ assertions.

  4. Evelyn Buck said

    Correction: three statutory bodies. Accessibility; Library Board; Committee of Adjustment. Fire Services Committee is a standing committee of two Councils.

    • Anonymous said

      Correction of your correction: Heritage is statutory.

    • Evelyn Buck said

      March 13,2911 at 6.02P.M.

      Well I questioned that because of the Heritage Act. I was told no. I think the thought was having a Heritage planner on staff allowed the Act to be recognized.
      Is the Heritage Act mandatory? Don’t see how it could be.

    • Anonymous said

      Heritage Advisory Committee Statutory roles and responsibilities

      The Ontario Heritage Act (s. 28) defines a committee’s statutory roles as follows:
      •To advise and assist the council on all matters relating to Part IV (Conservation of Properties of Cultural Heritage Value or Interest) and on the identification of a potential Heritage Conservation District under Part V
      •To advise and assist the council on other heritage matters as the council may specify by by-law.

      Under Part IV of the Act, once a municipal heritage committee is established, council is required to consult with it:
      •during the designation process for individual properties and for districts;
      •on applications to alter designated properties;
      •on applications to demolish or remove;
      •on applications to repeal designation by-law;

      Specifically under Part IV of the Act, where a municipal heritage committee is established, council is required to consult with the committee:
      •Before giving its intention to designate a property(s. 29 (2);
      •On applications to alter designated properties where the alteration is likely to affect the property’s heritage attributes as set out in the by-law designating the property (s. 33 (1)
      •On applications to demolish or remove any building or structure on designated property (s. 34 (1)).
      •On applications to repeal designation by-law: before considering an application from an owner of designated property, to repeal the by-law or part thereof designating the property (s. 31 (2);
      •On easements or covenants: before passing by-laws providing for the entering into of easements or covenants with owners of real property, or interests therein, for the conservation of buildings of cultural heritage value or interest (s. 37 (1));

      Under Part V of the Act, once a municipal heritage committee is established, council is required to consult with it:
      •before passing a by-law to define one or more areas as an area to be examined for future designation as a heritage conservation district (s. 40(2)).

      Additional roles and responsibilities

      A municipal heritage committee’s activities flow from its statutory authority and are part of its advisory functions. Council can and should assign additional responsibilities, through council resolutions, that all municipal heritage committees should fulfill, regardless of their size or location:
      •Survey, inventory and research. Many committees and their councils have begun active heritage conservation programs by conducting surveys or inventories that examine, research and evaluate all the properties and areas worthy of protection — now or in the future. These findings can make individual designation decisions easier and more reliable. They can also show a community the value and importance of its cultural heritage.
      •Community involvement and liaison with the community. Municipal authorities cannot provide all the opportunities for heritage conservation in a community. A heritage committee provides its community with a recognized forum to express its interests in heritage conservation and to learn about heritage issues. In addition, cooperation and consultation with other heritage and community organizations supports existing networks and promotes community involvement.
      •Information and education. Committees promote heritage conservation within communities, advise property owners on appropriate conservation and maintenance practices and help people determine the value of heritage resources for protection through designation. They also produce newsletters, descriptive guides, exhibits, and other educational material about notable buildings, streets, and districts. These materials raise community and visitor interest in the distinctive and attractive qualities of a community’s environment.
      •Municipal planning. Many pieces of legislation, including the Ontario Heritage Act, Environmental Assessment Act, Planning Act, Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act, Municipal Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, Fire Marshals Act, Conservation Authorities Act, Green Energy Act, Ontario Building Code have implications for heritage conservation. Committees can provide data, review heritage studies, provide advice on mitigation measures, offer advice and guidance and administer designated property grant programs. They can also play an important role in developing heritage conservation policies for the Official Plan and in reviewing zoning bylaws to ensure they have regard for and implement heritage conservation.
      •Municipal council. Committees should be responsible for keeping council informed of their plans and activities — often through committee minutes, reports and an annual report. Appointed council members can sit on the committee to enhance communication.
      •Financial accountability. A committee is accountable to council for its financial transactions. In some municipalities, the municipal treasurer meets this responsibility by establishing separate records on behalf of the committee, and centralizing all bookkeeping and accounting in the municipal clerk’s office according to established municipal procedures. The committee prepares an annual budget and submits it to council at a time specified by council.

    • Evelyn Buck said

      With respect and appreciation for the effort.
      The information outlines the reponsibilities of the committee and the council once a heritage committee has been established.
      It does not appear to require a committee to be established.
      Before the town added a heritage planner to the staff complement, the committee did ,I believe, a great deal of the leg work on heritage properties.
      Since the heritage planner was appointed the leg work has been done by the planner
      I believe.
      please, correct me if I am wrong.

  5. Veritas said

    First of all apologize for the length of my submission.
    My comments here are drawn from many years of working in the public sector for a number of different organizations, all of which had committee structures that contributed to the operations. They all seemed to have pretty much the same process too.
    Committees were generally struck by management at a board, organizational or departmental level. The committee reported to the body that struck it in the first place, not to anyone else. That body was referred to as the authority.
    The body that struck the committee provided the overall mandate or the broad description of the committee’s purpose.
    Once the committee was formed, i.e. it had a chair and members, its first responsibility was to draft terms of reference, which stated the specifics of how it would operate, i.e. its purpose, objectives for the term, membership, roles of members and their length of service(chair, secretary, treasurer (if there was a budget) frequency of meetings, quorum, reporting responsibilities etc etc.
    The terms of reference were then submitted to the authority for approval.
    Once approved, the work was done by the committee and recommendations were developed which then went forward to the authority for decision.
    The committee did not make decisions; it’s role was simply to provide recommendations which the authority could accept or reject.
    If a budget was assigned to the committee, it could not actually spend the dollers itself but rather could only make recommendations about how that budget should be allocated. The final decisions were always made by the authority.
    Once the committee’s work was completed it was generally disbanded with the exception of standing committees. Long term committees generally reviewed their terms of reference annually so that it was easier to remain on track and clear about its purpose. It also facilitated tracking short and long term objectives.
    If the committee needed assistance or special expertise to do its work, it could request the creation of a sub-committee, task force or work group for approval by the authority. Each of those also had to draft its own specific terms of reference, again approved by the authority. Obviously these terms of reference would complement the committee’s goals and objectives.

    To relate all of my experience to the questions asked in the post my answers are as follows, assuming that the authority governing committees would be the council:

    Question 1 – a committee, depending upon its purpose might have a budget, e.g. the accessibility advisory committee has one I believe. The treasurer or staff member could keep superficial track of the budget but it would have to be factored in to the town’s budget and financial operations. The committee would make recommendations about how the budget might be spent but final approval for any budget expenditures would be made by the authority.

    Question 2 – A council member could sit on a committee or be a resource for the committee if time does not permit regular attendance. It would make sense to match councillor expertise, experience and interest to the specific committee.

    Question 3 – Council would be the authority to which the committee reports. Reporting can be done in different ways: the chair presents in person at a GC meeting, monthly and/or quarterly written reports + minutes are submitted with the GC agenda and the chair can be contacted beforehand if required to attend the meeting to clarify or answer questions etc. It should be noted that method of reporting would have been spelled out in the terms of reference and approved by the authority.

    Question 4 – Staff could help to facilitate meetings because they would have great expertise and background knowledge that could avoid duplication, create efficiency and prevent wheels from being invented over and over again. They would also presumably have a clearer “bigger picture” than citizen members.

    Questions 5&6 – No. Presumably if my answer to 4 is in place, there would be no further need for this.

    Question 7 – The authority – council in this case – is under NO obligation to accept all or any of the recommendations made by the committee.

    Question 8 – A committee is indisputably accountable to the body or authority that struck it. It cannot operate independently because by nature a committee operates under an authority and cannot make decisions, only recommendations.

    Further comments:
    In my opinion it makes sense to have a councillor and staff on a committee because I think it would help to keep the committee’s work on track and prevent it from going off at a tengent which is not congruent with its purpose.
    I would like to emphasise too that, for the collective town committees to be effective, the membership background and expertise has to match the type of work the committee is asked to do.
    It is also in the town’s interest to cast a wide net for membership and not to appoint the same old favourites to many committees. I believe Ballard was one of those favourites who sat on a multitude of committees. We need diversity of experience, expertise, interest, opinion, not tunnel vision. We really don’t need memberships of “jacks of all trades, masters of none.”

    My 2 cents for what it’s worth!!

    • Very impressed said

      Veritas has provided a very definitive response to the question.

      Its implementation would go a long way in dealing with the role and powers of citizen committees.

      Nothing more need be said.

      What I haver found in recent months is that it is getting very tiresome being restricted to posts that raise strictly political issues.

      There are many facets to life that affect Aurora residents that go beyond how and why we are governed and by whom. Is it not possible to come up with subjects that provide opportunities to comment on these?

      The last such topic was whether technology is stifling our children. It was refreshing to read the responses and in particular that by Mayor Geoff Dawe.

    • auroracitizen said

      Suggestions welcome 🙂

      Send it along and we will publish your idea.

  6. Sid B said

    I’d be interested to know Councillor Buck’s opinion on this.

    • JOHN H SARGENT said

      To Sid B …Why do you not just ask her..she has e-mail and phone nu and as far as i have experienced not to shy to speak to one in person??

    • Evelyn Buck said

      You were asking?
      There are four statutory committees required to be struck and one standing committee.
      Joint Council Committee on fire services is the latter.Elected members form the committee. Three from Newmarket,three from Aurora.The committee meets with Fire Department staff. Newmarket is the larger municipality and the employer. Municipal staff attend as well.The committee meets once a month; alternately between the two towns.

      I served on the committee for four years.
      Not this term. Councillors Gallo and Ballard are members with a third to be named.

      The accessibility Committee is statutory. It does have authority. And a budget. The town provides it.The committee spends it. The objective is legislated accessibility for all.

      The Library Board is also Statutory. Creates it’s budget. Spends it. Has a mix of elected and non-elected members and is governed by the Library Act. Not Council.
      Council appoints the members including three councillors.

      The Committee of Adjustment has a quasi-judicial role. All members are non-elected. The purpose is to consider variances to zoning requirements and since the Oak Risges Moraine Act was passed, building applications within the Moraine.

      The committee deals with hard evidence in the main. Decisions are subject to appeal to the Ontario Muniicpal Board. They meet when there are applications to be considered.They receive remuneration and resource staff must be provided to adhere to formal requirements.

      In my view. citizen advisory committees are redundant.
      Council has professional staff to advise in every area.
      Committees add time and expense to the process.Contrary to the concept of customer service.
      Non-elected members tend to be in awe of the elected,they also tend to be exploited on some occasions and dismissed in others,if ideas don’t fit with political imperative.

      There is a place for ad-hoc committees which are appointed when needed to study a particular matter and report findings to Council.

      That said, when people wish to contribute for the best of reasons, It’s hard to say
      “No, there is no place for you”

      On a positive note, the day before the deadline for applications, there were none for Leisure Services Committee.

      All members of Council are entitled to attend any meeting where town business is being conducted and participate in the discussion.They cannot vote. They may speak IF recognised by the chair.That’s a downright offensive clause inserted in the procedure bylaw by the nasties, starting with Nigel Kean.

      Non-elected members can be chairman of the meeting.Non-elected members usually number more than elected.

      I think that’s ridiculous.

      Hogging the most interesting committees was also a practice in the Mormac regime and before. The former Mayor appointed pets, campaign managers and councillors who could be remotely controlled to Committees.

      That’s undoubtedly how the museum lost its status at the Church Street School.

      I think there was a secret deal between Phyllis and select members of the Historical Society. A budget like the Library Board or the Culture Centre was offered as a bribe. Hillary House was insinuated into the scheme of things as the town’s museum.

      All kinds of ulterior stuff has gone on under cover of advisory committees to legitimise skullduggery.

      I am not a fan.

      We have nine representative elected to Council. Some people thinks that’s too many. I think it’s enough to get the job done and be wholly accountable.

    • Fed up already said

      So, in summary, the reason Councillor Buck doesn’t like Advisory Committees is because of MorMac?
      When can we stop being lectured by Evelyn about MorMac this and MorMac that? It’s like Councillor Buck has to look under every damn rock to see if there is ANYTHING she can twist to add to the pile she wants to keeping heaping.
      We voted them out and I think we’re all tired of hearing about the last term and want to focus on now and the future.
      Please give it a rest, Councillor Buck. It’s giving me flashbacks, and for that I hold YOU responsible.

    • Oh boy…. I could tell you that this was coming but I did not expect to see it this way…..

      “In my view. citizen advisory committees are redundant.
      Council has professional staff to advise in every area.
      Committees add time and expense to the process.Contrary to the concept of customer service.
      Non-elected members tend to be in awe of the elected,they also tend to be exploited on some occasions and dismissed in others,if ideas don’t fit with political imperative.”

      There you have it folks. Democracy needs to check itself at the door at 1 Municipal Drive (sorry – that’s the real address). Those committees are a waste of time because the members are “in awe of the elected”? H O L Y C R A P !!!!

      I think the reality is, committees tend to bring a realistic viewpoint to council. That viewpoint would be real world, now, timely. This councillor’s real world is a time 25 years ago (or more).

      There is no shame in being “out of touch”, the committees are a good way to regain that focus. But to dismiss them as being there as groupies for the elected officials is just silly.


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