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Let citizen advisory committees do their work, councillor urges
March 12, 2015
By Bill Hutchins

Frustration has erupted at city council over complaints of the persistent cancellation of some well-known advisory committees.

Coun. Jim Neill complained that some non-statutory citizen advisory committees are not being allowed to meet on a regular basis any more, even when the committee chairs want them to. He says volunteer members are also being shut out as participants.

“It’s frustrating to those who put their names forward in good faith waiting to be engaged.”

He complains that two particular committees he serves on - Kingston Environmental Advisory Forum (KEAF) and the Memorial Centre advisory board - have barely met in the past year and a half due to an apparent lack of business to discuss.

Coun. Neill says the clerk’s office usually requests the cancellations and won’t let committee chairs override the decision or introduce new motions to debate. He brought the matter to council’s bewildered attention March 3 with a motion calling on the practice to stop, noting the ongoing cancellation issue goes against the city’s own procedural bylaw, “All the motion is saying is ‘If we don’t amend the bylaw let’s abide by the bylaw.’”

The issue appeared to surprise some councillors and confuse others.

Mayor Bryan Paterson called Neill’s motion “unfortunate” and suggested the reason for his mounting frustration is that council must set the tone for crafting policies and the amount of staff workload, not the advisory committees. “They want council to take the lead. Not the committees,” he said of the staff motives.

The mayor added: “It’s about who leads and who follows.”

But Coun. Neill says if that’s the case then the procedural bylaw, which governs committees, needs to be changed to reflect the top-down approach to governance. He says committee chairs currently have the legal authority to craft their own motions without interference from bureaucrats.

His attempt to restore the authority of committee chairs to call meetings and introduce motions was approved in a close 7-5 vote. Mayor Paterson and councillors Ryan Boehme, Adam Candon, Laura Turner and Liz Schell voted in the minority.

Several councillors say it’s hard to understand how the committee system works when they’ve only been on the job for a few months. They wanted more time to observe trends before deciding whether to take action. However, an attempt to defer Coun. Neill’s motion was defeated on a 6-6 tie vote.

“I was surprised it created as much angst and debate as it did,” Neill later told reporters of his motion.

He says both KEAF and the Memorial Centre board have provided valuable advice to council in past years, noting it was the Memorial Centre board that created the Sunday farmers market. He calls it a frustrating experience when the chairs of both committees are being dissuaded from holding regular meetings due to issues surrounding staff time or any motions that could increase their workload.

However, Mayor Paterson predicted the committees will get busier once council maps out its strategic priorities for the four year term, which will take place at the end of March.

The city has about 40 committees and boards; some exclusively represented by councillors while others involve a mix of councillors and citizen appointments.

The debate comes during a review of the effectiveness of non-statutory citizen advisory committees to determine whether they should be continued, reformed or disbanded. The previous council launched the review of those appointed bodies that advise councillors on a variety of topics such as the environment, Memorial Centre, arts, rural affairs, housing and homelessness, near campus issues and museums.