Under the new governance model without a Board of Control there are three standing committees with five members each, plus the mayor who is ex officio and has full voting rights.
I attended the first meeting of the Built and Natural Environment Committee (BNEC, also affectionately known as the “B’n E” committee) for a few hours last night. The agenda was quite heavy, more than 400 pages of reading delivered late because of weather closings of city hall. A few more pages showed up as added items at the start of the meeting.
The new timing of committees should be helpful for the public and, as Pat Maloney pointed out in a recent blog, for the various media trying to cover all committees with one journalist. Previously, all standing committees met on every other Monday evening starting at 4 or 5 p.m. Council met on the alternate Mondays.
Under the new system, BNEC meets on alternate Mondays starting at 4 p.m., Community and Neighbourhoods Committee (CNC) meets on alternate Tuesdays, also starting at 5 p.m. and Finance and Administration Committee (FAC) meets at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays. Council continues to meet on alternate Mondays, starting at 5 p.m.
While the new timing is beneficial for media and the public, it is not without challenges. More senior staff may need to attend both Mondays and Tuesdays and cafeteria staff will be needed for preparing and serving dinner.
There will also need to be some fine-tuning in the selection of items for the different agenda. While most of the items from the former planning committee (zoning, development applications, demolitions, etc.) were appropriately directed to the BNEC along with some items such as infrastructure construction (roads, sewers, storm water management) from the former Environment and Transportation Committee (ETC), last night’s line-up suggested that staff has deemed that the new BNEC would deal with everything formerly handled by planning and ETC. As a result, BNEC ended up with an agenda that lasted seven hours!
This was never the intent of the Governance Taskforce whose recommendations were approved by the former council. It anticipated that BNEC would deal with the structural and planning issues, or what goes where. CNC was to deal with the maintenance and servicing of the built and natural environment (tree preservation, waste disposal, parking, policing etc.).
A quick glance at tonight’s CNC agenda indicated only 100 pages, less than one-fourth of that of the BNEC.
Clearly, a better balance is needed.