Saturday, February 16, 2013

A New Way of Dealing with Committees

This new council is looking at city committees, and how committee appointments are made, in a whole new way.  We're hoping that the result is a set of committees that are functional, with defined work objectives, and that produce ideas that council can use in making decisions.

There are two types of committees to which council makes appointments.  The first type is external committees - committees that are established by outside agencies, but that require representation from Prince Albert.  The Library Board, the District Planning Commission, and the North Central Saskatchewan Transportation Committee are examples of these.  Our council does not control the functioning of these committees, but council appointees to these committees are expected to keep council updated with new information that might affect Prince Albert.

The committees that are within council's control are called, appropriately, committees of council.  These are set up to be a sounding board for issues that are brought before council, and are expected to give focused discussion on these issues, and make recommendations back to council on decisions that are council's responsibility.  For example, in the past the Housing Committee has been asked to develop policy around the utilization of the Housing Trust Fund.

Our committee review process has three stages.  The first was looking at all of the committees of council to see if there were any that were superfluous because their work was unnecessary, such as the Street Naming Committee, since there is a policy on street-naming in place.  We were able to trim a few of the more than 60 committees on the list in that way.

The second stage is selecting which councillors will be appointed to which committees.  Unlike previous councils, where decisions were made by the mayor, after meeting one-on-one with each councillor, then endorsed by council without any discussion, this council has chosen a more democratic and open process.  First, all members of council were asked to indicate which committees, both external and council committees, that they would be interested in being on.  Then, at last week's Executive Committee meeting, we voted on which councillors should be appointed to each committee, by secret ballot.  In some cases, councillors withdrew from the vote, when they saw the interest of another councillor, so voting wasn't necessary.  In other cases, taking a vote was necessary.  The resulting recommendations will be ratified at the next council meeting on February 25th.

I think that this process is a great improvement.  Everyone had the opportunity to declare their interest, and to see the interests of their colleagues.  Everyone also was able to participate in the decision.  And the voting was done in the open, with the ballot counting done by the city manager.  It was a bit of a time-consuming process, but we got faster as we went along.

Some councillors may be disappointed that they didn't get to be on all of the committees that they expressed interest in, and some may be disappointed that they are no longer on a committee that they have been on for some time.  As with most things in life, changes in perspective can bring new ideas to the table, which should be beneficial.  I've been on the North Central Saskatchewan Transportation Committee for my entire time on council, and while I found it quite educational, and met many good people from other communities and from the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure over the years, I'm sure that the councillor who will replace me on the committee will do just as good a job.

Meetings of committees of council are open to the public, so any councillor that has an interest in the committee, but wasn't successful in getting the appointment, can still attend the meeting, ask questions, and participate in the discussion.  They just can't vote on committee matters, but they can bring forth their ideas when the actual decision is made by council.  I did this quite often in my first term on council, and learned quite a bit, even though I actually wasn't a committee member.

There will be a third stage of this committee review process.  All committees of council will be expected to develop a committee work plan for the upcoming year by the end of April, and report on their activities at the end of the year.  If there is no work plan or report, the committee will be deemed not necessary at this time, and dissolved.

This new council is not afraid of doing things differently, and of including all members in discussions and decisions.  I look at the extra time involved in these discussions as investments in figuring out how to do our jobs better, which should benefit Prince Albert in the long run.  And that, of course, should be the goal of every  member of council.

"Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half the people are right more than half the time." - E.B. White

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