Kings County CAO Tom MacEwan.
By Kirk Starratt
The more things change, the more they stay the same – and this could apply to Kings County council.
A little more than a year after the process was completed to enfold all committees into the committee of the whole, steps are being taken to re-establish planning advisory committee, complete with citizen representatives.
Another major change being considered is having only one monthly council session and one monthly committee of the whole session, as it used to be prior to the 2012 meeting restructuring and committee enfoldment. If approved at the Dec. 3 council meeting, the new schedule could start in January.
Chief administrative officer Tom MacEwan said one reason for the suggested change is the timely completion of staff reports.
“We appreciate council requires significant time to review the items on the agenda,” MacEwan said.
Currently, staff members are filing reports nearly every week and spending significant time preparing them with two council and committee meetings each month.
“We don’t believe it’s the frequency of the meetings, it’s what staff can do to advance the issues,” MacEwan said. Staff, he says, believes the public would be better served by adjusting the meeting schedule. MacEwan said council could also hold emergency meetings if necessary.
He added that staff questions whether the highly structured committee of the whole is the best venue for full, frank discussions on planning issues, including public input.
“We’re suggesting that the planning advisory committee is a better venue than the committee of the whole for those discussions,” MacEwan said.
He pointed out that the management team, especially the planning department, strongly supports the re-establishment of planning advisory.
It would take two or three months to re-establish the committee. The Municipal Government Act requires citizen members sit on planning advisory.
There is also a recommendation to re-establish the budget and finance committee, but MacEwan says this isn’t as urgent. The purpose of the committee would be policy development, strategic planning and special financial projects. It wouldn’t be to “micromanage the budget.”
Councillors voted to recommend final approval of the three recommended changes Nov. 26.
Warden Diana Brothers said the 2012 meeting schedule and committee restructuring was a pilot project. She said she hoped councillors would support the recommendations from the chief administrative officer and staff.
There was a complaint before the restructuring that council was holding too many special meetings before the change, said Coun. Patricia Bishop. She said one of the two monthly committee of the whole meetings was supposed to be held specifically for planning matters.
“Somewhere along the line that was lost,” Bishop said. “We were going to have another form of public participation. That never got off the ground.”
Bishop said the changes haven’t been given a chance to work and going back to the way things were before realizing the vision would be premature.
Coun. Jim Winsor was concerned that going back to one council and one committee meeting a month would “frustrate getting business done” and provide “a diminished service to clients.”
Veteran Coun. Mike Ennis said he feels the municipality was better served during the years they had the planning advisory committee, a point Coun. Dale Lloyd agreed with. Lloyd said he remembers thinking at the time of the restructuring that he wasn’t sure he was going to like it.
“I’ve wished we kept things the way they were,” he said, pointing out that he’d like to see the trails committee resurrected. “To go back that way, I think, is the proper thing.”