Last Monday was our last council meeting until the middle of August. We've been doing this for several years now - one council meeting in July, and one in August, with an Executive meeting in each month the week before the council meeting.
There are some positives to this. For those who prefer to vacation in the summer, it provides a couple of blocks of time when a three week absence won't result in missing any meetings. It also gives some relief to administrative staff who attend council meetings - they too can take time off, or at least have a shorter than usual day on Mondays when a meeting is cancelled.
But city business still goes on. In fact, for most of our staff, who either work outdoors or manage those who do, this is their busy time, and summer vacations are not something that they can take for granted. Things have changed - just as shopping is now a seven day a week option, vacations are no longer limited to the summer, and perhaps council operations need to recognize that taking it easy during the summer may not be affordable any more. Maybe we need to keep working year-round, even if it means that if you take summer holidays, you may not get that perfect attendance award. But council as a whole may be able to get more done.
Perhaps we need to take the opportunity in summer to focus on the important, but not necessarily urgent, matters. Perhaps getting together to brainstorm solutions for some of our chronic issues might be a good use of our time.
For example, in talking with some of our staff about the focused paving projects that we're doing this year, to try to catch up with the backlog from past years of neglect, they've had some good ideas about how the process could be made more efficient. There are a lot of steps that have to happen from start to finish when repairing a street, but some of the steps, like boulevard repair, may not happen in the same year, or even within a couple of years, as the main work. We should explore the options out there for removing those gaps, and work with staff so that those ideas with the most promise get a trial run, rather than just have things continue to be done the way they've always been done.
Another chronic issue that is probably the one that is raised with me most often, is dealing with boarded up properties. This seems to be more of an issue in the summer, perhaps because that's often when those with nowhere else to live will move into these places, even without the basic utilities of power and running water. You can imagine how unpleasant a place like this would be to have in your neighbourhood, and it's not uncommon for fires to occur in these situations, endangering both the temporary inhabitants and the surrounding homes. We need to find a faster way of getting these properties either back up to code and habitable, or taken down, and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss possible solutions with council and staff.
This council is trying to operate differently from previous councils - working more efficiently, and spending taxpayers' dollars more effectively. Maybe it's time we looked at our meeting schedule, and even at the way we approach our discussions about problems, differently too. I'm not advocating that we forget that it's summer - I enjoy the longer days and the more relaxed feeling that everyone seems to have (and I appreciate not having to wear a suit to council meetings), but I think that, even though it's summer, we still need to continue looking at our problems, and finding solutions. And just as the best ideas often come when you're relaxed, not trying to meet deadlines, maybe we'll come up with solutions for some long-standing problems.
"Summer's lease hath all too short a date." - William Shakespeare