By Robert Washburn
An effort to clean up some procedural practices and policies led to an emotional exchange Monday night as Councillor Miriam Mutton squared off with Deputy Mayor Stan Frost.
Frost was visibly frustrated when he tried to introduce a motion calling for a review of the policy and procedures process. While many residents might find this a boring topic, he is hoping such a review will mean fewer and more enforceable bylaws and clearer and up to date policies. It is also his goal to make sure the procedures actually match what staff and politicians do, he said in an interview. Finally, it will review terms of references for the town’s committees, which advise council on everything from planning to environment to disability services. Citizens make up these committees.
“As deputy mayor, part of my responsibility is to ensure that our business practices are sound and consistent with modern day realities,” he said. “ To this end, I have changed (and hopefully improve) a number of things already including council agenda formats, terms of reference for advisory committees and other stuff.”
Frost hopes to implement an e-agenda protocol where councilors will use computers to review documents.
However, Mutton expressed concerns over the process the town is using for the review, which lacks public consultation and citizen involvement. She argues the policies and procedures are being developed by staff and select politicians alone.
“I think the operative words are ‘development’ and ‘review’ of policy and procedures, rather than ‘approval’ of,” she said in an interview. “In my view, the word ‘approval’ is often used incorrectly throughout the document…A policy matter requires the attention of all member of council. We are elected at large.”
Mutton wants to discourage the formation of silos of information and decision-making.
She fears council is bias against citizen input. And, she worries any comments she might make will be dismissed, if only a select few are in charge of the review.
She has experience with this kind of behavior.
“I will email my ideas in advance so that they are aware of my concerns and suggestions,” she said. “However, if Mr. Frost takes the position that he feels I have no issue he may dismiss my concerns as having been addressed or not respond at all. Too often, I have in good faith let a verbal explanation satisfy my inquiry and this has to change.”
One change she suggests is council meeting minutes reflect questions and answers between council and staff. She also wants to see meetings stream live on the Internet and also be recorded as a matter of retrievable record.
Frost feels the motion was pretty clear in addressing Mutton’s concerns.
The document states councilors will be consulted. In fact, staff will only be allowed to make recommendations and it will ultimately be council’s decision for the final document.
He also draws attention to the fact that the chief operating office Stephen Peacock is responsible for developing the document. He is obligated to use a consultative approach, Frost points out in the original motion.
Frost downplayed his reaction Monday night.
“I confess to experiencing some degree of frustration in trying to understand and address her concerns for something that was discussed and approved by council a week earlier,” he said.
The details surrounding the development and consultation process are still being worked out, along with a timeline, he added.
Sidebar: Bylaw not exciting, still vital