Grimsby council overhauls its operating system

By Mike Williscraft
NewsNow

While many items have been in a holding pattern for Grimsby Council over its first year, last week’s council meeting saw several major items brought up and approved with little or no prior discussion.

Case in point, council opted to do a full overhaul of how it conducts business. A move to a committee-of-the-whole administrative style was approved.

As well, council also adopted a new Code of Conduct, which includes a whistleblower policy that, in the minds of several councillors, was woefully incomplete when it comes providing a suitable process in which to file complaints.

Because council got its first look at the proposed process changes – which will include dissolving all committees of council (and severing ties with lay members on its committees) – with its package on the Friday preceding the meeting, Coun. Reg Freake suggested deferring the document “to allow council a chance to digest” it. With insufficient support, that motion died.

During discussion, Coun. Dorothy Bothwell outlined several short-comings with the report, among them:

• Planning Committee’s (of which she is chair) meetings are long (avg. 2.75 hours) and since some municipalities keep planning separate, for that reason, she suggested that was appropriate here;

• Currently, committee chairs are responsible for setting their agendas;

• With the size of projected agendas and extended length of meetings, agenda availability will have to be pushed back from its current Friday afternoon timeslot.

On the point of managing agendas, Coun. Randy Vaine agreed with Bothwell somewhat noting he believes the mayor should act as chair of all. It would be up to the mayor as to how much direction he or she took from councillors on agenda suggestions.

The notion of the committee-of-the-whole system was not of concern to council, generally, all noted there are favourable aspects to the new system, but implementing the report as presented was premature, said Coun. Lianne Vardy.

It was also noted there had been no previous discussion on the committee of the whole structure or public notice of any kind.

“I don’t like losing our community (lay)members, their expertise and opinions,” added Vardy.

“Currently, chairs drive their agendas. I am not willing to abdicate that to staff. Staff don’t represent the community. We represent the community.”

Rotating chairs was also suggested as an option, but neither Vardy nor Bothwell thought that appropriate.

Vardy cited strengths of several councillors – Bothwell on planning, Freake on economics and Kadwell on public works – as reasons councillors’ strengths should be played to, not limited.

In the end, the motion was approved as presented in an 8-1 recorded vote. Vardy was the dissenting vote.

While Bothwell voted in favour when the motion was called, she stipulated her vote in favour was based on adoption of suggestions she made about the report’s problems.

There was no commitment on any of her suggestions, however.

The motion called for the new process to be in place for meetings starting March 1 but Mayor Jeff Jordan confirmed Monday implementation will be delayed.

“We have pushed off implementing the committee of the whole until at least April to allow for a more fulsome review of how we will implement it. The report received was incomplete and we needed to work on several aspects of the change to allow for a smoother system and more transparency,” said Jordan.

“There will also be more opportunity for public input and to gain understanding of the process, which is important.”

PROMISSORY NOTE EXTENDED
Council agreed to extend the $5.7 million promissory note the Town holds for Grimsby Power Inc. The Town receives about $240,000 annually in interest payments on the note.

Coun. Randy Vaine said he preferred dissolve the agreement, adding, “It makes no sense. We don’t have enough food on the table but we continue to give food to others.”

Coun. Dave Sharpe disagreed.

“Maintaining the promissory note is the best thing to do for the Town,” said Sharpe.

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