Original Published 02:10 May 30, 2022

By Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

How the public portion of city council meetings is handled has been set.

City council approved a policy that will cap the number of presentations — through the committee-of-the-whole meetings — that will be allowed in future city council meetings.

In passing the Council Procedure Bylaw, the city has limited the amount of presentations but also provided clear and transparent guidelines with regard to how presentations will pass through city administration.

Council regularly receives presentations from staff and various outside organizations at its committee of the whole meetings, city deputy corporate officer Gabe Bouvet-Boisclair said, and often times there are more requests than the city is able accommodate.

The city’s Council Procedure Bylaw now provides — after council voted on its creation May 3 — 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.

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 Mayor John Dooley.

More than a meeting

When Nelson city council first began holding committee-of-the-whole meetings, it was intended to provide a forum for all of council to receive information from staff to inform future decisions. 

This eliminated the need for the pre-existing individual city department committees where each committee included some councillors, but not all of council. Overtime, the committee-of-the-whole also began to receive presentations from outside organizations. 

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.”

Speaking of the policy

The policy defines: 

– 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. 

Adding legislation

The Council Procedure 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. 

Source: City of Nelson

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