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Who 'presides' over a council meeting?

At last night's 'special council meeting' called to accommodate a special interest group, representatives of the VOTE group ran all but the procedural parts of the meeting (the opening and closing). From what I've been told about the meeting, and based on the agenda for the meeting, The VOTE representatives presided over the majority of the meeting. I base that statement on on these definitions of the verb:

–verb (used without object), -sid⋅ed, -sid⋅ing.
1. to occupy the place of authority or control, as in an assembly or meeting; act as president or chairperson.
2. to exercise management or control (usually fol. by over): The lawyer presided over the estate.
3. To be set, or to sit, in the place of authority; to occupy the place of president, chairman, moderator, director, etc.; to direct, control, and regulate, as chief officer; as, to preside at a public meeting; to preside over the senate.
4. To exercise superintendence; to watch over.

It's pretty obvious to me that control of the meeting was handed over to VOTE because it clearly states in the agenda that VOTE would moderate the majority of the evening and from the accounts I received, did so.
Here's the definition of moderateas a verb:

...to preside over or at (a public forum, meeting, discussion, etc.).
...to act as moderator; preside.

And similarly defined here as:

to direct, guide, or preside over a discussion or meeting.

Moderate and preside are therefore synonyms in the context of meetings. That means VOTE presided over that portion - the majority - of the meeting by any normal definition of the term.

Now, according to the Municipal Act, the head of council is the only one who CAN preside over a meeting:

Role of head of council
225. It is the role of the head of council,
A. to act as chief executive officer of the municipality;
B. to preside over council meetings so that its business can be carried out efficiently and effectively;
C. to provide leadership to the council;
C.1. without limiting clause C to provide information and recommendations to the council with respect to the role of council described in clauses 224 (d) and (d.1);
D. to represent the municipality at official functions; and
E. to carry out the duties of the head of council under this or any other Act. 2001, c. 25, s. 225; 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 100.

There is a subsequent section that defines who may preside over a council meeting other than the mayor, and it allows ONLY for another member of council, not an outsider or a member of another agency or organization, to do so:

226. A municipality may, with the consent of the head of council, appoint a member of council to act in the place of the head of council on any body, other than on the council of another municipality, of which the head of council is a member by virtue of being head of council.

Under Section 238 (procedural bylaws), a meeting is defined as,

... any regular, special or other meeting of a council, of a local board or of a committee of either of them.

And that same section, notes that:

Presiding officer
(4) The procedure by-law may, with the consent of the head of council, designate a member of council, other than the head of council, to preside at meetings of council.

So it clearly says only another member of council can preside over a meeting if the head of council can or will not do so. There is no provision for an outside (un-elected) individual or agency to do so. But isn't that was what was done, last night?

And finally, we read this a little further down in the Act:

Head of council
241. (1) The head of council, except where otherwise provided, shall preside at all meetings of the council. 2001, c. 25, s. 241 (1).

Absence of head
242. A municipality may, by by-law or resolution, appoint a member of the council to act in the place of the head of council or other member of council designated to preside at meetings in the municipality’s procedure by-law when the head of council or designated member is absent or refuses to act or the office is vacant, and while so acting such member has all the powers and duties of the head of council or designated member, as the case may be. 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 105.

Again, that reinforces the idea that only a member of council, not an outsider, can preside over a meeting of council. And I would argue that it means any or all of a meeting of council, and you cannot exempt a portion of a meeting from the confines of the Act.

Further, I would argue that allowing an outside group to "moderate" and portion of the meeting, especially a portion when the public gets to ask questions of council, negates any control the chair - the mayor - has over the meeting. I would argue the mayor did not preside during those times when VOTE was moderating.

So here's my question for you to ponder over the weekend: was it legal to allow VOTE or any of its representatives to preside over even a portion of last night's meeting?

That's an intriguing question. I've already said in a previous postthat I felt calling the special meeting was unethical and inappropriate. But was it also illegal?

By my reading of the Municipal Act, I'd say it was not legal to allow someone else to "moderate" even a portion of a meeting because that's synonymous with "preside" over it, but of course I'm not a lawyer (as the mayor has pointed out). My interpretation is based solely on my experience as a councillor (plus a decade in the local media covering council).

I think I should call the Ministry of Municipal Affairs (again) and get an interpretation of exactly what "preside" means.

Yes. By all means, get an opinion from Ontario Municipal Affairs. And, while you are at it, ask for the procedures to take action by effected citizens to obtain justice against these illegal actions.

This isn't the first time that the Mayor has manipulated the Collingwood Procedures Bylaw and the Ontario Municipal Act. Unless formal action is taken, there will be more illegal actions.

Dick Hill

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