Town council here appears to be taking a pass on the idea of holding daytime council meetings.
Last month, council reviewed a recommendation from clerk Dina Lundy that asked council to change the draft procedural bylaw to hold one regular scheduled meeting per month at 1pm.
In her report Lundy stated that in June, discussion arose regarding how to address the issue of presentations that may exceed the time limit of 15 minutes for delegations.
That prompted a discussion amongst staff regarding challenges in scheduling consultants to present to council, as well as overtime costs due to attending evening meetings in order to present departmental reports.
Lundy noted it is difficult to time when reports will be presented at council meetings.
“Another challenge for staff is that they may be required to attend a meeting to hear presentations that may affect their departments, regardless of whether they have a report to present at that meeting,” she said.
Lundy stated that staff feels “a majority of these extra costs can be avoided by incorporating one regular daytime meeting per month, as well as scheduling some of the special meetings during the day, where it can be accommodated.”
She noted many of the presenters are also public sector employees such as county staff and scheduling these presentations during a daytime meeting would further amount to cost savings for those public sector employers.
Lundy stated the CAO and director of finance were consulted, as well as the other municipalities within Wellington County.
Currently Puslinch, Mapleton, and Minto hold one regular daytime meeting per month.
The regular monthly meetings of Wellington County council are also held in the daytime.
Lundy concluded her report stating, “It is a goal of this department to continually improve and seek out efficiencies. Incorporating daytime meetings will save considerable resources.”
CAO Kathryn Ironmonger stated that if this was incorporated into the procedural bylaw, it could be circulated to candidates running in the upcoming municipal election.
Councillor Barb Tocher responded, “it is no secret how I feel about this. I really think deciding right now to have a meeting during the day limits the amount of candidates who are eligible to run for council.”
Tocher suggested that as soon as the new council is in place, “they look at this recommendation and decide if it will work for them … rather than arbitrarily deciding before the election.”
Ironmonger noted that comments made in the past indicated the nighttime format was what certain candidates were prepared for. At the same time, she noted that strictly holding night meetings could limit the number of potential candidates.
She stressed the proposal was made in an attempt to reduce costs and allow staff not to incur additional costs.
“At the end of the day, we felt it was an opportunity to put it on the table now rather than later,” said Ironmonger.
Tocher said the election may result in people who are capable of attending daytime meetings, but, “I’d hate limiting people eligible to run or attend council meetings.”
Tocher said there may be interested citizens unable to attend daytime meetings.
Ironmonger said the alternative thought was that there are people in the community who work nights, and a daytime session might allow a venue for them to participate.
Mayor Lou Maieron said he saw the issue both ways. He pointed to the various times in which county council meetings have been held over the years.
“There are limitations to each side.” He also agreed the municipality was working to limit staff overtime.
“I don’t want to tell the next council how to do it, but the new council should have some options.”
Maieron noted that another option which could be considered is what the town of Minto is doing – videotaping the meetings and posting them online. Residents can then view the meetings via the municipal website.
He suggested deferring it to the next meeting.
Tocher suggested if the majority of the expense is the staff time, not the council time, then perhaps staff could be given time off in lieu and pay the regular salary to attend the night meeting.
“There are other ways of making the cost savings happen without jeopardizing the hours,” said Tocher.
Ironmonger said the difference of day meetings is that staff would not need to sit through most of a meeting to present a report and instead could be called in as needed.
She suggested when staff are required to sit through the entire meeting “there are hours which are unproductive.”
Councillor Josie Wintersinger said points made on both sides of the issue are very valid. She suggested these items be listed and placed on the list of jobs for the new council.
Wintersinger added that she would not want to make a decision for the next council.
Tocher said she understood a mixture of day and night meetings do work for some councils. But she said the Erin area has traditionally held night meetings, and switching them back and forth would make it more difficult for people.
“We’re not looking for councillors to attend only half the meetings, we’re looking for people to attend all the meetings,” said Tocher.
Maieron still wanted to bring the issue back to the current council to discuss again.
Tocher suggested having staff prepare a report on the pros and cons – then use it as part of the orientation of new councillors.
Councillor John Brennan also did not want to tie the hands of a new council. But he agreed with laying out the case for the new councillors – “and let them decide.”