Moving Meetings

Back in August 2018, I wrote an article about the CBRM’s fluid monthly council meetings in which I quoted an article I’d written in July 2017 about the CBRM’s fluid monthly council meetings.

I’m a little early this year, but given that we’re barely four months into 2019 and two of our four monthly meetings have been held on days other than the third Tuesday of the month, I think it’s time for another article about the CBRM’s meeting schedule, not least because, in looking over what I’ve already written, I’ve made an interesting discovery.

CBRM Council Chambers, 2017. (Photo by WayeMason [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons)

CBRM Council Chambers, 2017. (Photo by WayeMason, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons)

But let’s start in 2017. Tom Ayers (now of CBC, then of LocalXpress, the online publication put out by striking Chronicle Herald workers) had noticed that the CBRM was canceling and/or rescheduling meetings without notifying the public. When I went to the CBRM website back then to check what it said about meeting times, I found this:

Regional Council and its Committees meet in the Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 320 Esplanade, Sydney, NS. All regular meetings are open to the public.

Council meetings are usually held on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:00 p.m. and are broadcast on the local Cable TV channel and via live webcast.

The General Committee meetings are usually held on the first Tuesday of the month at 9:30 a.m. and are broadcast via live webcast.

 

Schedule? What schedule?

A year later, after a couple of council meetings were held at odd times (like, the second Tuesday of the month at 9:30 in the morning), I went back to double-check the website and found this:

Regional Council and its Committees meet in the Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 320 Esplanade, Sydney, NS. All regular meetings are open to the public.

Council meetings and General Committee meetings are broadcast on the local Cable TV channel and via live webcast.

Upcoming Meetings will be posted on Fridays in the table below.

Do you see what they did there? They solved the problem of irregular meetings by removing the day and time associated with council and general committee meetings entirely. The implications being a) we meet when we feel like it and b) it’s none of your damn business. Neither of which is a good look for a municipal council.

 

USUALLY (emphasis added)

Fast forward another (almost) year, and I’m to-ing and fro-ing with the Municipal Clerk and the Mayor’s spokesperson again as to why the March and April meetings were held on the first, rather than the third, Tuesdays of the month.

The Clerk tells me in an email:

Meeting dates change from time to time. And as noted on the CBRM website, General Committee is USUALLY (emphasis added) held on the second Tuesday of the month at 1:30 p.m. Council is USUALLY (emphasis added) held on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:00 p.m. This schedule is subject to change and all upcoming meetings will be posted on Fridays on the website.

If you require further details, you may want to contact the Mayor’s office. I’m copying them for awareness.

I went to check the website and, sure enough, the text has been changed AGAIN:

Regional Council and its Committees meet in the Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 320 Esplanade, Sydney, NS. All regular meetings are open to the public.

General Committee and Council meetings are broadcast via live webcast. The regular monthly Council meetings are also broadcast on the local Cable TV channel.  General Committee meetings are usually held on the second Tuesday of the month at 1:30 p.m.  Council meetings are usually held on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:00 p.m.

This schedule is subject to change and all upcoming meetings will be posted on Fridays in the table below.

 

Democracy when?

Before I get to why the March and April meetings were rescheduled, a word on why it matters that, as I posited on Facebook, CBRM council seems to schedule its meetings by throwing darts at the calendar.

Having a regular schedule for meetings is better for democracy because it facilitates public attendance (even virtual attendance, via the livestream).

That’s basically it.

 

Combination deal

The Municipal Clerk also told me that the decision to switch up the dates for the regular monthly meetings in March and April was made by the Agenda Review Committee — i.e. the Clerk, the CAO, the Deputy Mayor and the Mayor.

When I pressed for further information as to why the agenda was changed, she directed me (as noted above) to the Mayor’s Office, which suggests which member of the Agenda Review Committee holds the most sway.

Here’s what the Mayor’s spokesperson told me (by email) about the reasons for this month’s schedule changes:

It is my understanding that March’s meeting was taking budget meetings and March Break into consideration.

This month, the Council and General Committee agendas were not heavy, thus a combined meeting.

The March change I can understand, but the April change makes no sense, given that the deadline for submitting items for the agenda of the monthly council meeting is 4:30 PM seven days preceding the meeting — don’t take my word for it, here’s the rule as it was adopted during the 26 June 2018 council meeting:

Source: CBRM Council minutes 26 June 2018

Source: CBRM Council minutes 26 June 2018

The April council meeting should have taken place on Tuesday, April 16 — which means the deadline for agenda items was April 9. How could the agenda committee have known the agenda for the April meeting was “light” enough to combine it with the General Committee meeting on Friday, March 29, when they sent out the notice of the weekly meetings?

The mayor’s spokesperson is telling me that the agenda for the April meeting was set in the last week of March and that makes no sense (especially given how often the “4:30 PM seven days preceding the meeting” rule is broken).

 

Motion carried

I think it’s worth noting here that the CBRM Council actually did set days and times for its regularly monthly meetings.

Back in the fall of 2017, Council voted to hold regular monthly meetings on the last Tuesday of the month, to hold General Committee meetings on the first Tuesday of the month (in the evening) and to hold General Committee on Planning and Economic Development meetings on the first Wednesday of the month (in the evening). It was noted at the time that if the new schedule did not work out, Council meetings could revert to the third Tuesday of the month.

In July 2018, Council revisited this schedule, and Municipal Clerk Deborah Campbell Ryan said that the new schedule wasn’t working out:

Ms. Campbell Ryan noted that while staff will work within any schedule directed by Council, her opinion is regular monthly meetings of Council should revert to the third Tuesday of the month.

Campbell Ryan also recommended that the General Committee and General Commitee on Planning and Economic Development meetings be moved to 1:30 PM on their respective days. Council accepted all these recommendations:

Source: CBRM Council Minutes 10 July 2018

Source: CBRM Council Minutes 10 July 2018

I went through the online list of meetings to see just what the schedule has looked like since this motion was passed and I immediately understood why the CBRM had surreptitiously removed the “usual” times and dates for meetings from the website. Of the nine subsequent meetings, THREE were held on the appointed day and at the appointed time:

 

August’s meeting is held the FIRST TUESDAY of the month at 9:30 AM

September’s meeting is held the THIRD TUESDAY of the month at 6:00 PM

October’s meeting is held the THIRD MONDAY of the month at 9:00 PM (There is a “Note new time & date” notice on this one)

November’s meeting is held the THIRD TUESDAY of the month at 6:00 PM

December’s meeting is held SECOND TUESDAY of the month at 6:00 PM

January’s meeting is scheduled for the LAST TUESDAY of the month at 6:00 PM (but is postponed to Feb. 8 due to weather)

February’s meeting is held on the THIRD TUESDAY of the month at 6:00 PM

March’s meeting is held on the SECOND TUESDAY of the month at 6:00 PM

April’s meeting is held on the FIRST TUESDAY of the month at 6:00 PM (There is a “Note New Date” notice on this one)

The General Committee schedule is equally strange — as best I can determine (from looking at the online list of meetings and checking out the minutes) it met only twice between August and December 2018.

As for the General Committee on Planning and Economic Development, I do not know what is up with that at all — it met four times in 2017 (twice in June); and while it apparently met four times in 2018 (twice in January) the only minutes online are for the January meetings.

It has yet to meet in 2019.

Pity the poor citizen trying to keep track of any of this — particularly the poor citizen without internet.

 

 

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