Efficiency and all that

As this newspaper lands on front stoops and in mailboxes throughout the county, representatives at county council will be having their October meeting.

Last month, notices of motion were delivered at council, albeit ahead of schedule since councillor Diane Ballantyne had to leave early to get back to her day job as a teacher.

The notices signaled Ballantyne’s desire to discuss three things: changing the council meeting time, implementing a consent agenda format and ridding county properties of single use plastics.

Point three, referencing the elimination of such plastics at county facilities, would be an ambitious undertaking. It is a start at least to a problem most Canadians can understand. Everyone needs to be smarter with materials of convenience that impact the environment.

For whatever reason, while mulling this over we had thoughts of another former county Ward 6 councillor who proposed a smoking ban, well in advance of any provincial effort of consequence.

Bob Wilson, supported by a majority of councillors at the time, started the trend in this county for non-smoking workplaces (including restaurants), to save workers from the perils of second-hand smoke. It was a bold departure from waiting for some other level of government to do its job.

Ballantyne’s efforts on plastic may take a similar trajectory, highlighting the drastic need for leadership on the issue of conservation and environmental protection. Dominoes do fall.

We find however, the notion of changing meeting times and re-jigging the current tried and true agenda of county council to be a little too self-serving to be worthy of serious consideration.

Full-time employment does get in the way of people seeking office, but one would have to believe sufficient homework was done in advance of running to ensure meeting obligations could be met.

Let it be forgotten by no one that the current county councillor pay exceeds $40,000 per annum, plus benefits and a pension. For even more clarity, that is $4,000 per month (summers are often off without any meetings) to attend a minimum of two meetings.

Council chooses to meet mid-morning for a number of reasons, but chiefly it is to leave sufficient time between the commute and a 10am sharp start for councillors and staff to further inform themselves on issues under discussion that day. Clarifications and less serious questions can be answered prior to the meeting, saving everyone’s time during the formal meeting.

We have spent some time poking around this notion of a consent agenda. Apart from Ballantyne, we have talked with no one that suggests the current system needs revision. As it stands reports for each committee are reviewed with council and unless there is a contentious item, the recommendations from each committee are passed by one motion.

The current system is quite efficient – apart from occasionally long-winded councillors who could be more concise with their reports, or from respondents who don’t do their homework in advance of the meeting.

Oddly absent from these conversation points (yet hopefully to form part of council discussion today) is the idea of representation and informed debate. A functioning democracy takes time.

It is our understanding that apart from a couple of enthusiastic councillors who attend all meetings, the work of committees is a members-only proposition. Great trust is placed in members to do their homework and ask thoughtful questions, but the public and fellow councillors rarely get a view of this work. Once in a while, depending on the issues under discussion, a reporter may attend, but generally committees operate in complete isolation.

When the chairperson presents their report to county council pertinent discussion points are often highlighted to demonstrate the depth of conversation. To suggest that fleeting glimpse of a committee’s work and subsequent report to council be minimized from its already imperfect form in the name of efficiency is bunk. These motions are clearly an example of complete self-interest.

Now, if someone wants to talk about efficiency on behalf of taxpayers, we would be all ears.