Sunday, December 7, 2014

Committee Appointments, the Democratic Way

Last week's Executive Committee meeting was the time when new committee appointments were decided.  As we're mid-way through the current term of council, it seemed a good time to take stock, and see if changes were appropriate.

Committees are different from when I was first on council.  Committees of that time, like Finance, or Works and Planning, which used to meet separately and then make recommendations to council, have been replaced by Executive Committee, so that matters now come directly to council.  And some committees that were in place at the time of the last election, like the Beautification Committee, were determined to be redundant, so no longer exist.  Many of the committees are not committees of council, but rather are external committees that have city representatives.  I don't think that there's any perfect committee structure, so it's good that the city has control, for the most part, over how committees are set up and their membership.

This council does committee appointments quite differently than the previous council.  Rather than the mayor making all the decisions, and handing out committee appointments like favours, this council has a two step process.  First, each member of council decides which committees they would be interested in being on - there's not much point in putting someone on a committee if they're not interested in being there.  Then, council as a whole votes on which councillor will be on which committee - it doesn't get more democratic than that.

The result this time, for me, is a bit of a change.  I remain on the Police Commission, and now represent council on the Downtown Business Improvement District committee.  Since my ward borders the downtown, and Laura at the Bison often teases me that I'm there so much it's my unofficial office, I'm looking forward to working with downtown businesses on revitalization ideas.  And I have a feeling that I'll continue to go to Saskatoon Airport Authority meetings, representing the mayor, who often has conflicting demands on his time.

In my time on council, I've been on most committees.  I think that, to be valuable, a committee has to do more than meet - it has to set priorities, and work towards making sensible recommendations for council to act on.  I get the feeling from some of my colleagues that they see some committees as having some sort of higher status, but I don't buy into that kind of thinking - like many status-related things, the glory is mostly in individual's minds.  The public is rarely aware of who is on which committee, or in what each committee is responsible for.  Committees are mostly in the background, discussing issues and sorting through information, but making final decisions remains a council responsibility.

Committees do provide valuable input, but it's best to keep the system flexible - don't have committees that duplicate work already being done elsewhere, don't meet unless there's something to discuss, and don't be afraid to disband committees that aren't doing anything - as long as council follows these guidelines, we won't be so overburdened with committees that we forget our real responsibilities.

"To get something done, a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent." - Robert Copeland

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