The mayor has called a special meeting of council, whose sole purpose is to allow council to be grilled by the VOTE group. It turns out the proposed "public" meeting to grill council at the Leisure Time Centre isn't legal under the Municipal Act. So to accommodate the group, Mayor Carrier has legalized it by making it a council meeting - albeit one whose agenda is set by Vote and allowing VOTE to moderate the proceedings.
I am not attending because I do not believe council should be at the beck and call of ANY interest group. I think this is highly inappropriate and a serious political mistake, not to mention the blow to the mayor's and council's credibility.
I posted the following as comments on my previous entry about this, but moved them here because I didn't want them to get lost under the main entry. I think this is important enough to deserve its own headline. I've expanded the comments somewhat here, as well.
On Wednesday morning, I received a call from the mayor informing me that - as I had questioned in my previous blog entry - the VOTE meeting actually constitutes a meeting of council under the Municipal Act. So it's illegal for council as a group to attend. Our clerk contacted our legal counsel and he agreed. I wonder why the mayor never asked the question (this time or last year).
Which means the previous VOTE meeting, held in 2007 and attended by most of council (but not myself or Dept. Mayor Cooper), was equally illegal under the Municipal Act. But the lack of legality isn't stopping out intrepid mayor from making this meeting work for VOTE. There's still a card up his sleeve: calling a special meeting of council, a power invested in him under the Procedural Bylaw.
The memo we received from the clerk states:
Seems that no one, not even the mayor, informed the clerk of the meeting until early this week.
...I have confirmed that this gathering constitutes a meeting of Council pursuant to the Municipal Act, 2001. Case law defines a common test to determine if a gathering of members of Council constitutes a meeting pursuant to Section 238 of the Municipal Act, 2001. Our Municipal Solicitor, Mr. John Mascarin, has generally noted the three-part test as follows:
(i) whether councillors are invited to attend;
(ii) whether the matters discussed are matters which would ordinarily form the basis of council’s business; and
(iii) whether those matters are dealt with in such a way as to “move them materially along the way in the overall spectrum of a Council decision.”
So if it's illegal, you'd think members of council would want to stay away to avoid breaking the law. But the mayor has instead called a special meeting council - at the Leisure Time Club, not town hall - to make sure the legalities are met and that VOTE's needs are fully accommodated. This sets a bad precedent: calling a special meeting to cater to an interest group instead of dealing with town business. The clerk continues:
In "good faith"? Good faith for the taxpayers would have been to ask the question about legality first, before accepting the invitation.
For this meeting to continue, it must be called in accordance with our procedural by-law as a Special Meeting of Council. I have discussed this matter with His Worship Mayor Carrier, Municipal Solicitor Mr. John Mascarin, Aird & Berlis and V.O.T.E.. His Worship has agreed, in good faith, to declare the meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening as a Special Meeting of Council. An Agenda will be distributed later today, pursuant to our procedural by-law.
The agenda for the special meeting arrived simultaneously and includes what looks suspiciously to me like the same agenda for the VOTE meeting:
I am unaware of any section in the Procedural Bylaw, let alone the Municipal Act, that allows an outsider - agency or individual - to moderate a council meeting. To me that is essentially handing the meeting over to an unelected agency. Even if the mayor remains the nominal chair of the meeting, VOTE calls the shots here.
INTERACTIVE SESSION WITH V.O.T.E. (7:10pm – 8:00pm)
(Moderated by V.O.T.E.)
Questions for Discussion:
1. Over the past year, Council has made a number of large financial commitments, for
example, the new library, and is in the process of considering additional items through
budget deliberations - a significant contribution to the YMCA expansion, Downtown
revitalization, and now potentially the Heritage Park overhaul including a new Wellness
Centre. In these uncertain economic times, does the Town have the resources to pay for
these ventures? What impact are these projects going to have on our taxes?
2. What does Council see as the three most pressing issues facing the community as we go
forward, and what is Council’s plan to address them?
5. PUBLIC DISCUSSION
(Moderated by V.O.T.E.)
Public Question & Answer Session (parameters to be defined) (8:00pm – 8:55pm)
Closing Remarks (8:55pm – 9:00pm)
Nor am I aware of anything in either law that allows a special interest group to set a council agenda and determine who has the right to speak, the order of the speakers or moderate the responses of council. Yet the agenda is clearly VOTE's agenda, with the niceties of our town procedures wrapped around it to make it legal.
I also believe it is a precedent that a delegation - and that's what they are in a council meeting - to question members of council, especially to demand council justify its decisions. The normal process is that council asks questions of a delegation, not the other way around. Not to mention a precedent to have council have to explain and justify itself to any special interest group in a public meeting. And then the special interest group even gets to moderate the "public" question-and-answer session!
Who defines the "parameters" for the "public" session? Who makes the closing remarks? It doesn't say, but I suspect the moderators do. And I say "public" guardedly in quotations because my personal feeling is that the moderators will favour their own members to do pre-determined questioning. But I say again: it's a precedent to have members of the public question council at a council meeting. In future every interest group will have the right to demand the same privilege that the mayor accorded VOTE.
Too many bad precedents being set in one meeting.
And who will be paying for any staff required to attend - at the very least, the clerk will be there. Will VOTE repay the town for the staff costs, or will the town be subsidizing VOTE by picking up the tab? I believe you, the taxpayers, are paying for staff who have to attend the VOTE meeting. I believe that again sets a precedent and should be a budget issue debated by all of council, not an arbitrary decision made by the mayor. Arbitrary is the watchword for this term, it seems.
I will still not be attending, even though it has been called as a council meeting. I consider it highly inappropriate - bordering on immoral and indecent - to call a special meeting of council to accommodate the demands of any special interest group. Council should not be at the beck and call of any group, nor should any group be allowed to moderate a meeting or set the agenda. Attending this meeting gives credibility to an already bad process, and acquiesces to what I see as a seriously bad error in judgment.
If we do it for one group, we are honour-bound to do it for every group that demands it. Otherwise we would be seen by the public as overtly partisan, and probably worse - as mere lackeys of the group that got the special attention and privileges. Kids' soccer clubs, swim teams, developers' groups, charities, service clubs, business organizations - they all now have the right to demand equal treatment: a special meeting to demand council justify its decisions. To say no to any of them will be to admit we are not being democratic, but merely partisan.
I can hardly wait to see how the mayor responds when PGIB demands the same privileges accorded to VOTE.
There was a story on the Enterprise-Bulletinwebsite last evening:
Huh? How does pandering to the needs of any special interest group "protect the integrity of council"? Quite the opposite, I suggest. What this does is deal a serious blow to council's integrity and raises the question about who runs the town - or perhaps it cements the answer because many people already think they know and here's the proof.
Carrier explained the decision to formalize the meeting as a committee of the whole meeting was to protect the integrity of council.
“Under the Municipal Act, according to our solicitor, and our clerk agrees, the format of the meeting is such that we are sitting collectively as a council or at least a quorum. Since I’m listening to the opinions of my colleagues, that makes it a debate and even though we’re not making a decision, it could affect the decision-making at a council meeting in the future. That makes it really a committee of the whole meeting.”