Saanich council meetings might not get any shorter for a while, and councillors can, in part, blame themselves.
Councillors Monday asked staff to review a recommendation from Coun. Judy Brownoff to end council meetings by no later than 11 p.m. as part of a review of the bylaw governing council procedures. But this review might not lead to any changes until next year, partly because most members of council have not yet responded to staff when asked for input months ago.
“As you all know, I have … sent you an email, probably going back to December , January, maybe even March of this year, providing you your council procedure bylaw [and] requesting councillors to provide their feedback,” said Angila Bains, manager of legislative services, after Brownoff had asked when council would consider any revisions. “I have heard from three members of council at this point.”
Bains later said that council could receive the draft version of a revised procedure bylaw within the next three months pending review by staff and input from councillors. Once councillors have reached consensus on any changes to their own procedures, the proposed revisions will then receive public input, following first reading, she said.
This sequence of steps makes the timing of any changes difficult to predict, said Bains.
Chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson struck a similar note when he said that staff have their own ideas when it comes to revising council procedures, but find themselves limited in their actions until they hear from councillors.
“It’s not just on staff,” said Mayor Fred Haynes. “This is on council. We have been asked four times now by staff for input on how to guide our procedures, and we have heard from our [chief administrative officer] earlier that staff can be uncertain about what council wants to do. So it is on us, if we want to accelerate this.”
Brownoff said earlier that her recommendation to limit the length of council meetings to no later than 11 p.m. stems from public complaints from residents and the development community about the effectiveness of council during late hours. This said, Brownoff acknowledged that some meetings of council like public hearings are subject to legislative requirements outside of council’s controls.
Coun. Nathalie Chambers generally agreed with Brownoff, adding that long meeting hours also undermine democratic transparency.
Couns. Rebecca Mersereau and Karen Harper somewhat distanced themselves from Brownoff. While they agreed with Brownoff that a self-imposed curfew would be one option to limit the length of meetings, both called for a more comprehensive review of options, rather than “cherry-picking” one as Mersereau put it.
Mersereau also said it was not unusual for a new council with four new members to have long meetings. She also predicted shorter meetings once Saanich has finalized a strategic plan and called on meetings chairs to avail themselves of their existing powers to limit the length of meetings when and where necessary.
Coun. Colin Plant said he himself has not received many complaints about long meetings, and rejected recent criticisms. He also said that council has benefited from long public hearings, and Coun. Zac de Vries said this council can be proud of the long hours that it has invested.
Haynes specifically pointed to a public hearing on June 18 that stretched well into the morning and included a pizza break.
“It was an amazing public hearing,” he said.