This week's meeting was the Executive Committee meeting. These are held on the Monday that there isn't a Council meeting, starting at four p.m. and lasting anywhere from a half hour to two hours.
Executive Committee was established about four years ago, when Roman Martiuk became City Manager, on his recommendation. It was originally meant to replace a number of committees (Works and Planning, Finance, Parks and Rec, for example), where members of council and public members would discuss issues which would then come to council for a decision. It was felt that by establishing Executive Committee, which includes all members of council, these decisions would be made with all councillors having the same information, and would reduce the number of meetings that we need to attend. The ultimate purpose of Executive Committee was to determine whether an item should be moved to Council for a decision. Routine items could be moved forward more quickly. The downside, of course, is that there are no public members of Executive Committee. While meetings are open to the public, normally there is no opportunity for the public to speak, unless prior arrangements have been made. While I'm all for saving time, I'm not sure that Executive Committee has proven to be much of a benefit to how council operates.
As things are working now, the consideration step seems to have been lost. All items tend to be forwarded directly to council, complete with a recommendation for a formal decision at the next meeting, usually the following Monday. Any discussion that occurs at Executive isn't usually repeated the following week, when the meetings are televised and at a more convenient time for people to attend. So there's little opportunity for the public to hear the reasoning behind any decision. They just get to watch the decision being made, usually quite quickly. Perhaps it's time we reconsidered the usefulness of this committee, and whether there are other ways of improving our efficiency without the loss of opportunity for the public to comment or be informed.
We discussed a few items this week, including the city's contribution to this week's Sled Dog Races (about $6000, when labour costs are included), which shows up inexplicably in the snow removal budget. Would it not be more open and transparent to identify a budget line for community events such as this? Then when a group comes to us with a great idea, we could have a community chest, as it were, of seed money that could be used. This would put all groups seeking such support on a more level playing field, and acknowledge honestly what the costs are for such events. It would also open the door to new initiatives, which could have the potential to become magnet events, much as the Sled Dog Race has. Budgeting for such initiatives is essential, part of planning for a successful future.
We also discussed how Saskatchewan Lotteries Community Grants are disbursed. For as long as I've been on council, each year Saskatchewan Lotteries gives the city a community grant, which non-profit groups can then apply for to use for various projects. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that the criteria for awarding grants is clear, and it's hard to say how well-spent some of these grants have been. We discussed how we should develop a tracking system, in which those who get grants would have to report on how the money was spent, how many people benefited, how long the program lasted - just some common sense measures that would allow us to assess the success of each program. We also discussed the need to communicate more effectively how to apply for these grants, and what criteria will be assessed, to ensure that the benefits are evenly distributed to all sectors of the city, not just a few.
We discussed the recently prepared South Highway Corridor Study, which emphasizes the need for more short and long term planning related to the city's growth patterns, and the need to develop a growth strategy that will ensure that future developments consider a wide range of factors that will affect their feasibility in the long run.
Not all members of council were present at this meeting, but Councillors Gervais, Dionne, Matheson, Ring, Williams and I enjoyed an open and respectful exchange of ideas and opinions that is an indication of how well this council can function.