Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Procedural Rules Matter

Have you ever been part of a formal meeting that followed meeting guidelines like Robert’s Rules of Order?

We use strict rules at Town Council and at Regional Council to advance public business on your behalf. For example, our meetings follow specific agendas, and the “first order of business” is to approve that agenda. The Clerk keeps accurate meeting notes and we approve those “minutes” at the next meeting. A motion must be “moved” and “seconded” before we even discuss it.

In addition, we use a committee system. Whatever a Committee decides is then “recommended” to Council for approval. But, Council can actually change that recommendation altogether, and, once approved by Council, a decision or action becomes final.

We follow other rules as delineated in a “Procedural Bylaw.”

Well, a very interesting debate recently occurred at the Region that highlights the importance of knowing this process and these procedures.

You see, during the Public Works Committee meeting on September 27, we considered a staff report regarding a new development called “Cannery Park” on the former CanGro lands in Niagara-on-the-Lake. While a developer has upgraded a portion of the former operation and is successfully running a cold-storage facility, he also wants to rezone the surrounding lands and build 238 homes.

While supportive, Staff recommended continuation of an Ontario Municipal Board appeal so that the Region could negotiate a proportional cost-sharing agreement on behalf of taxpayers. This agreement would cover between $1.8 and $2.3 million of costs to upgrade and widen the Regional Road and to direct home construction away from an existing sewage pumping station.

A majority of the Committee disagreed and, wanting to “roll out the red carpet” and “speed-up” the process, voted down the recommendations. Then, after further debate, the Committee recommended to Council that Staff negotiate with the developer and have more information for our October 18 Committee meeting.

On October 6, Council debated the Committee’s recommendations; then, following a series of amendments and recorded votes, the majority of Council – and notably many of those who quite vocally wanted to give fast, carte blanche approval – postposed action on the entire matter “until October 19.”

But, since the deferral is to a day following the Public Works Committee meeting, we cannot actually deal with the matter until our Council meeting on October 27.

It’s unfortunate when the real issues – like the appropriateness of a development, or the mitigation of additional costs to taxpayers – are lost because of the misunderstanding and misuse of meeting procedures.