After-run thoughts regarding #StCath Council issues

I chaired the penultimate Ad-Hoc Budget Meeting for 2105 yesterday, where we debriefed on the process and made suggestions for how to improve the budget process going forward. There was general consensus that the days of an Ad-Hoc committee are over, and that the City, as its budget grows, now needs a Standing Committee that meets year-round. There are still details to be worked out regarding the composition and turnover of committee members, but in general we all felt it was important for the City to make this step.

If anyone has ideas on how to improve the process as a whole going forward, including ways to further engage the public, I am all ears. If I’m chosen by Council to sit on the new committee, I will be suggesting that Budget night be increased to two evening, with public presentations, staff presentations, Council preliminary questions and budget amendment proposals be done on the first night, and debate of amendments and the budget done on the second night (Monday and Tuesday, back-to-back in an ideal world). Budget nights have gone on later and later, and Council has been making multi-million dollar decisions after 6 or 7 hours, oftentimes well past midnight. This is a poor way of accomplishing things, and I think the above process will help things.

In addition to wrapping up budget, there are a number of other happenings around Council right now. Coun. Britton, Coun Elliott and I will be making selections for the committees under our Economic Sustainability pillar in the upcoming days; very lucky to have a long list of very qualified people interested in serving the community. The decision making process will not be easy.

Council was a relatively uneventful one, although we did manage to stay inside the 11pm curfew (a rarity these days). We heard a number of presentations about the rates and fees of the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre. I was a little surprised to hear the Executive Director suggest that more money would be required to operate the facility effectively, given that we’ve recently finished the budget process and this wasn’t mentioned when he presented to us. With that said, however, I’ve asked Staff to determine how this would affect the overall budget and what financial implications his increased ‘flexibility’ in negotiating rates would have to the City. If he can meet his revenue projections and maintain the overall integrity of the agreed budget for the FOPAC while having this flexibility, then it’s something we need to explore, at the very least.

What’s on tap at #StCath Council, tonight, May 11th, 2015 – http://bit.ly/1K29hjA

After several meetings in a row that went past the curfew of 11pm, it looks like we may get in under the 4 hour mark tonight. A combination of fewer delegations, presentations, and controversial motions means that, hopefully, we can be hon in bed by the curfew hour.

On tap:

  • The new FOPAC rates and fees – that is, how much if you want to rent the place.
  • The St. Catharines Accessibility Plan and how we’re doing – bottom line, pretty good, but still a lot of work to make our community accessible.
  • The potential expansion of community gardens – I’m excited by this one, as it’s something I and Coun. Ip were championing last term. I’m hopeful a few community groups take quick advantage of the new opportunities and set up shop in some of the city’s under used lands.
  • Another update on the Port Dalhousie situation – things are improving, slowly. But better than they have been.
  • The costs associated with recording in-camera sessions – I’ll touch on that at the end.
  • The animal control report – whether to go along with a new 1 year contract with LCHS, ignoring last meeting’s 10-2 decision, or allow the contract to run out on October 29th and have a solution in place before that date. I imagine I don’t need to express my opinion on this one yet again.

In the Regular Agenda, we’ve got presentations regarding the Accessibility plan, the Niagara Regional Transportation Master Plan (finally), a Public Meeting about the FOPAC fees and the Kowalik’s, who are once again asking that their property be rezoned due to the damage that’s been done by the QEW as part of the Greenbelt Review.

Regarding the recording of in-camera sessions; I am fully in favour of recording what happens in-camera, and if I’m able to be in the 2016 Budget committee, I will endorse spending the $9000 that is associated with the lower cost option. Raising fears of ‘hacking’ of in-camera recordings seems ridiculous to me; at the end of the day, there is a principle involved that we, as elected officials, need to be accountable for what we say, and staff have the same burden of accountability. Recording these meetings will help to ensure this accountability.

I believe there are some issues that require confidentiality in the moment; having in-camera meetings makes logical sense. But there needs to be an unbiased record of what was said.