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Victoria governance review calls for rework of meetings, councillor roles

Recommendations cover land use approvals, plus council conduct and impartiality
Victoria has received a number of recommendations on how to improve, streamline or reimagine governance in the city. (Black Press Media file photo)

The City of Victoria has received a suite of third-party recommendations for improving its governance and decision-making processes.

The governance review, done by MNP, found the city is already aligned with contemporary practises of effective government in areas including: open city meetings and planning documents, active public engagement, equity and inclusion of diverse communities and a commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

The review recommends reworking committee of the whole meetings to reduce duplicating discussions on topics, allowing public input there instead of council meetings and using COTW for more informal, in-depth discussions on fewer matters.

MNP said there should be a separate meeting just for public hearings, held on a different day, to reduce fatigue of council, staff and the citizens. All those groups expressed concern over the current length of meetings, the consultant said. It also recommends streamlining land use matters by dropping public hearings when applications are consistent with the official community plan.

Concerns over council’s treatment of staff prompted a proposal to establish a code of conduct and appoint an integrity commissioner. The review identified concerns regarding the tone councillors have used while questioning or making comments to public servants during meetings. MNP said ethical conduct is critical for citizen confidence in municipal government.

Councillors serve as liaisons to individual neighbourhoods, but the review says the city should amend how they bring forward concerns, advocacy and priorities. The consultants found the current system of councillors highlighting those neighbourhood interests conflicts with their ability to be impartial when making decisions for the city as a whole.

It’s also suggested that councillors no longer hold formal liaison positions on advisory committees, again for impartiality reasons. The consultants said councillors should still be free to attend and listen to committees. Some committees noted frustration over not being consistently engaged on topics within their mandate, or being engaged early enough to inform decisions.

The review calls for a clear procedure where neighbourhood associations can present their information or advocacy to council and a similar process for advisory committees to raise their recommendations.

The consultant said mayor and councillor pay should be reviewed each term and occur as a scheduled process to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest, while also being more efficient and transparent.

In 2022, the rates are $118,739 for the mayor and $47,496 for councillors. The review recognized that being a Victoria councillor requires more than just a part-time commitment.

Council will further discuss the review’s recommendations at a Sept. 8 meeting.

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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