Original Published 01:51 Apr 26, 2022

By Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Three times is the charm for city council when it comes to presentations.

Or, at least it could be capped at three, according to a discussion over Council Procedure Bylaw at the April 19 committee-of-the-whole (COW) meeting.

The number of presentations at the monthly COW meeting — from city staff and from the public — that city council could feasibly hear and discuss was discussed, with the result to be entrenched in legislation in the policy.

Nelson deputy corporate officer Gabe Bouvet-Boisclair said the aim of the policy is to provide transparent and clear guidelines — to staff, council and the public — on how presentations are scheduled for council’s committee-of-the-whole meetings. 

Council regularly receives presentations from staff and various outside organizations at its committee of the whole meetings, he said, and often times there are more requests than the city is able accommodate.

The city’s Council Procedure Bylaw provides that council shall receive a maximum of three such presentations per meeting. 

“This limitation was first implemented in 2020 to help manage the length of meetings,” said Bouvet-Boisclair. “As a result, there are occasions where there may be more presentation requests than can be accommodated all at once.

“Given the high priority of certain presentations, staff cannot simply assign presentation slots on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis.” 

As well, at times there are presentation requests that may not be appropriate given the topic or the fact that the issue being raised is operational and could be addressed at a staff level, said Bouvet-Boisclair.

Over 20 years ago each city councillor was designated to one part of the city operations, said Mayor John Dooley, so at budget time each individual councillor would bring forth the requests from their department portfolio.

“In turn, it was putting some departments with all of the money and others were not,” he said.

COW meetings were created and had city staff present to council from each department and deliver and explain their budget requests.

“It’s got to the point that it’s more than that,” said Dooley. “I happen to think that it does us a service in some areas but it does us a disservice in other areas when it comes to the responsibility we have as elected officials in the first place.”

Coun. Keith Page said everyone around the council table appreciated that there were more people asking for a meeting than the three slots currently allowed.

“But, with the flexibility allowed between the corporate officer and the mayor, do we need to hold three as stringent or should there be a little more flexibility in a fourth?” he asked.

Dooley said discretion was used as to who appeared on the agenda for the meeting. City corporate officer Sarah Winton they really try to maximize council’s time in choosing the COW presentations. 

“We often have a conversation about presentations, their length, how long the discussion by council might take,” that sort of thing, she said. “Any time we’ve had more than three, you know, you have been sitting here past 10 o’clock at night. And then the presenter has to sit here until 9:30 before they can present. It really doesn’t make good sense.”

“We have control over them, but we have no control over us,” said Dooley. “And that’s where it breaks down.”
Only urgent matters have expanded the agenda beyond the three presentations allowed, he added.

At the regional district there is more of a strict approach on time, said Coun. Janice Morrison and the city’s representative on the regional district board.

She said the RDCK keeps to a maximum of two presentations for 15 minutes and it has to include question time. The chair does cut them off and tells them how much time is remaining.

“We don’t want to be that hardcore, but we maybe want to let people know who are coming to speak that there is a time limit, and I think that time limits can vary, depending on the importance of the communication,” she said.

The city always allows 10 minutes to present, with no cap on the discussion, said city manager Kevin Cormack.

“Picking up on that point, that is why we limit it to the three,” he stated. “We are trying to create that avenue that there are appropriate questions.”

“A lot of good things have come out of these over the years, which probably wouldn’t have happened had we not allowed it,” said Dooley.

The matter was referred back to city staff with the expectation city councillors will provide more feedback on how many presentations — and their format — would be allowed.

Speaking of the policy

The policy should clearly set out: 

– what types of presentations are eligible for a presentation to council at a committee-of-the-whole, and which are not; and 

– the criteria that staff will consider when faced with numerous eligible presentations and are forced to prioritize presentations for a limited number of presentation opportunities. 

Any policy would need to be designed to be consistent with the Council Procedure Bylaw. That bylaw provides the following: 

– Section 4.6: presentation requests that deal with a matter outside the jurisdiction of the City of Nelson may be refused; 

– Section 4.7: There shall be no more than three presentations scheduled at any committee-of-the-whole meeting unless the mayor, in consultation with the corporate officer, decides otherwise;

– Section 4.7: The corporate officer and mayor hold the authority to schedule presentations as according to the nature and priority of the presentation subject matter; 

– Section 4.8: Provided that a presentation request deals with a matter that is within the jurisdiction of the City of Nelson … the corporate officer shall handle such requests by taking one or more of the following actions as deemed appropriate in the circumstances: 

– that the request be referred for action to the appropriate city staff member or department, if the request is operational in nature; 

– that the request be referred to a council committee or advisory body; and/or 

– that the request be granted and the audience be scheduled to the next available meeting agenda.

– Section 4.9: An appeal may be made to the city manager in the instance where the corporate officer rescheduled the delegation to a later meeting or refused the delegation entirely. 

This item reprinted with permission from The Nelson Daily, Nelson, British Columbia