BLOG #724: London’s elected leaders are going to try for a third time to get their governance model right. A report to be considered next week returns council meetings to an every two weeks schedule. That alone, though, won’t fix all the problems.
Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 – London
City council meets this coming Tuesday for the first and only time this month. So far in 2012 there have been 12 council meetings.
Those who believe council meets less often than it used to – back before the schedule of every three weeks was adopted – are marginally correct. By this time last year council had met 12 times; in 2010, 13 times; and in 2009, 14 times.
So it’s not necessarily the longer gap between scheduled meetings which led to some very long council sessions this past winter and spring, despite the howling of many of our elected officials.
Nevertheless, the schedule is about to change again.
City council’s strategic priorities and policy committee – really just a smarter name for the old committee of the whole gathering everyone attends – meets on Monday to consider yet another change to the governance model.
If you’re counting, this will be the third change since this group was elected in October, 2010.
Earlier changes brought us a new bunch of standing committees, following by an even larger bunch a year later. Today there are six different standing committees, plus the everyone goes committee. Some meet every two or three weeks, some meet only once a quarter.
Nothing is quite as predictable as it used to be when all the standing committees met at the same time on Monday every two weeks, Board of Control met on the Wednesday, and the full council gathered on the following Monday.
Of course, whenever there was a statutory holiday, nobody met. This accounts for the fact meeting every three weeks on a Tuesday gets just about as much done as meeting every two weeks on a Monday.
The changes to be considered this coming week will return city council to a schedule of every second week, says Paul Hubert, chairperson of council’s governance review committee.
Beyond that, promises Mayor Joe Fontana, the changes amount to “tweaking, rather than a full-scale revamping.”
Linda Rowe, the deputy city clerk, who has been stickhandling the proposed changes through various levels of consideration, says “there was concern (among council members) meetings were lasting too long and that there were too many meetings.”
The latter point is possibly true, certainly for councillors. But it is a direct consequence of the elimination of Board of Control, the work of which has been spread across the remaining 14 councillor positions. Most councillors now have two regular meetings a week where they previously had one. Under the old system controllers had the additional meeting.
The length of meetings is another issue. It was partly caused by the somewhat lackadaisical interpretation of rules about length of time councillors could speak on any one issue, and how often. Since June, though, Mayor Fontana has been cracking down on the offenders – chief of whom was his worship himself – and meetings have been noticeably shorter.
But it was also partly caused by the lengthened committee agendas – in some cases committees were deciding questions that should have been handled by staff – and by the determination of some new council members to debate issues long ago resolved. Again, the mayor drove much of this because he has been attended virtually every committee meetings, something his predecessors rarely did.
That’s obviously a delicate problem to fix, but its resolution is clearly in the mayor’s court.
Should council be embarrassed this will be the third governance model in two years? No. The first change was imposed by the previous council and untested. It was based on a lot of good ideas, but required a total buy-in from all council members to work – something it never got.
The second change was created by this council in response to the frustration many felt with change one. It solved some problems, created others. Perhaps this third try will get it right.
From the standpoint of citizens, though, the governance model isn’t nearly as important as whether council is honestly and intelligently trying to be open, accountable and responsive. If it passes that test – noting there are many criteria in each of open, accountable and responsive – they we should all be happy.