We've had some informal discussion among members of council about possible changes to what we do in Executive Committee meetings, which are held on alternate Mondays from Council Meetings. While no decisions have been made, I thought that it might be helpful if I were to explain why some of us are thinking that the current format needs to change.
First, Executive Committee hasn't been in place since time immemorial. Well before my time on council started, council meetings were held weekly. Council of the day decided that meetings could be held every other week, since much of the preparatory work that was done for council was done in committees. These committees were made up of various combinations of members of council, and included such committees as finance, parks and recreation, and public works.
This was the practice during my first term on council, and into the second term. During that second term, we hired a new city manager, who suggested that we could get rid of the committees, and have the matters that were handled by those committees dealt with by all members of council, in what became Executive Committee meeting on alternate Mondays. For those of us who were on several committees of council, it meant fewer meetings. It also meant that everybody got to have input on all city matters, rather than having, for example, only a few councillors on the finance committee.
However, with the next mayor and council, and a different city manager, Executive Committee became more of a rehearsal for the actual council meeting, where final decisions are made. It also became an opportunity for matters to be fully discussed at Executive Committee meetings, which aren't televised, so that the actual vote the following week was rushed through without much public discussion. In essence, we were meeting twice on the same subjects.
I'm not afraid of work, but I do like my time to be used well, so I've been advocating for a change in Executive Committee for awhile now. And now, halfway through the term of this council, others are starting to be willing to explore options.
I've been suggesting that Executive Committee use that meeting time for two purposes. The first would be to have more detailed discussions with staff about new proposals that they are bringing forward, in a less formal setting. Too often when we ask questions at these meetings, we don't have the time to delve fully into the necessary information, so Executive Committee meetings would be the opportunity for that. It will mean that staff will have to come prepared for such deeper discussions, and that councillors will have to use the opportunity to ask meaningful questions, not make political points.
I would also suggest that we could use these meetings to vote on items that have previously been discussed, such as projects that have already received budget approval. That would leave more time at formal Council Meetings to focus our public discussions and decisions on items that haven't yet been approved.
I'm not proposing eliminating Executive Committee meetings, which will be a relief to those who are under the misconception that councillors are paid by the meeting. I am proposing that when we meet, we should be as productive as possible.
There are those who regard any change as suspicious. However, I'm a believer that continual improvement means looking at all our processes, and not being afraid to try something new, in the interests of doing things better. After all, procedural changes, which is all that this would be, are relatively easy to make, and don't cost a lot of money - low risk all round.
"Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine." - Robert C. Gallagher