I’ve been getting a lot of messages asking where I stand on the proposed change to Regional Council schedule. I strongly support Regional Council meeting bi-weekly.
Council moved slightly over 2 years ago to a system of Standing Committees. These cover a range of government functions, from economic development to the environment. These smaller Standing Committees of 6-8 councillors focus on these key areas and, frankly, the dialog & debate is way better. The reason why most municipal governments have moved to standing committees – it gets better results. I am on two SCs, Community Planning Economic Development and Transportation.
Because of this new model, regional council’s agenda is far shorter. Less circular debate and posturing because the work is being done in the Standing Committees.
In HRM we also have Community Councils. These deal primarily with development proposals. I am on the Halifax and West Community Council, and it meets at least once a month, though since the election we have actually met twice a month, usually for three hours.
Then there is the math – Council meets 36 times a year now. The proposal drops it to 26, so it does not cut the meetings in half. You then have to add in 10-11 Committees of the Whole (which is all members of Council but less formal) that were added to discuss the budget. At the end of the day Council will be meeting about the same as it always has, 36-37 meetings, but in a different format.
Finally, going to council is not the sum total of a Councillors job, never has been, never will be. All Councillors are on at least 2 SCs, usually 2 or more Advisory Committees (with citizens) and also boards and agencies (ie library, bridge commission). My schedule usually runs to 8-16 hours of formal agendized meetings, plus you need to read the material for each meeting, and you have other meetings, reading, constituency work, etc.
Going to bi-weekly makes sense given the way SCs are working, and it also frees up ALL the senior staff of HRM who have to be in Chambers watching council every Tuesday afternoon. It means THEY can go to the operational parts of their jobs.
The one issue that came up is the SCs and CCs are not webcast. I agree that is an issue and I will make that point today in Council. SCs meet in chambers, flipping a switch and pushing out a single fixed camera with audio shouldn’t be a killer expense. CCs meet all over HRM and that is $1500 a meeting to webcast, but I think it is worth doing.
All things considered I really think this makes sense.