Most of the changes to Thorold City Council’s meeting procedures are intended to time-saving at best, and may lead to procedural wrangling at worst, as has happened in other municipalities that have tried similar tactics. However, two of the changes might actually be of benefit: the first to the Councillors, and the second to democracy. Both have to do with the section presently known as “Other Business”.
The first benefit is the three-minute time limit per Councillor to bring up their business. As Councillors who have been asked understand it, that’s three minutes for all the three items they’re allowed, not three minutes each item. And the questions have to be provided by noon the day before so that staff will prepared to answer.
The obvious benefit to the Councillor in this is that they’ll be aware that they have to prepare. This will be especially beneficial to Councillors who have a tendency to keep talking after they’ve made their point and ramble on until they find themselves being sued, or possibly being escorted from Council by police escort. I’m not mentioning any names.
There are drawbacks, however. It could increase heating costs because of all the hot air not expended. But seriously, the reason this may not save time, however, is that it may have the intended consequence of creating long delays when a Councillor feels that his or her or their duty to represent his or her or their constituents is being infringed upon. It takes an inordinate amount of time to delay Council while the police are being summoned.
The potential benefit to democracy and taxpayers arises from the new rule that motions can’t be made from Other Business, which will be known as Statements by Members.
Whether or not Council and staff realize it, the public have developed a generally accepted rule of thumb for pushing through items that aren’t too, too contentious. Most times, all anyone needs to do at present is to bring along ten or twenty supporters and it’ll get passed through a quick motion by at least one Councillor in Other Business. Whether or not it’s a true perception, it’s generally accepted out there that Council is afraid to say no to a determined crowd.
While it won’t completely resolve the problem, or the perception of it, it will slow it down by requiring a Notice of Motion, which will at least move the question to the next Council Meeting. This will give Councillors an opportunity to think about the various repercussions and to ask staff for pertinent information. The petitioners will have to work just a bit harder and get their supporters out to at least one more meeting before it can be passed.
And, don’t worry if you think your particular cause is an absolute emergency. The General Committee report states that Council may temporarily suspend procedure at any time with a two-thirds vote. So, if you can convince two-thirds of your elected representatives that your need is immediate and dire, you still have a chance to do it in one night.