THUNDER BAY, ON ---- August 4, 2010 ----- The recent lengthy City Council meetings (new bus terminal in front of City Hall, renaming of waterfront streets, The Windmill Park process, etc.) might seem to indicate that something is amiss or that a disconnect exists between the citizens’ expectations and Council/Administration’s capacity to deliver timely and effective decisions. Some would say that it is a sign of growing rift on Council itself, or between Councilors and staff. That is the impression one may get by following the coverage of Council meetings, or by listening to the political pundits.
Is it really as bad as it seems, or is it just part and parcel of a responsible decision-making process when dealing with difficult and somewhat complex decisions that require balancing the needs and aspirations of the parties involved with those of community as a whole?
Some would say it is more of the latter, and I trust the following comments will shed some light on what appears to be a convoluted process. As well, given that there is an upcoming municipal election in October, it may help the citizens and those who are seeking office to gain a broader perspective on the decision-making process.
When I first got elected to City Council, I remember my initial enthusiasm of holding political office and being able to make a contribution to the well-being of our community. The eagerness of wanting to do the best job possible was tamed only by the sheer volume of information I needed to digest in order to make informed decisions. In fact, major decisions such as budget approvals and board appointments are made within weeks of new Councilors being sworn in. The learning curve is short and steep.
As a whole, Council is a reflection of the will of the people who voted them in. However, each Councilor brings their experience, background, and style to the position. The platform on which they ran, also provides them with a certain base and direction on what their priorities should be. After all, Councilors like me ran and won on specific issues as open, transparent and accountable municipal government, and putting people first.
Should not be a surprise that Councilors who ran on such platforms, are asking questions and challenging decisions made in the past that are not in line with their priorities. Since many votes are split 7-6, even one new Councilor can swing quite a few decisions one way or the other. With two or even three new councillors the change is substantial, especially if they prefer a hands-on style of decision-making.
Administrative staff is aware of such changes. Even though at times it may seem that they are being picked on during question period, they realize that each Councilor may have a different style and approach, and some require more detailed level of information than others. I have had the pleasure of working with them and I am confident that their professionalism and capabilities will prove to be a valuable asset during these times of financial uncertainty and change for Thunder Bay. In other words, Council needs a strong management team and we know we have one.
In this whole debate of Council meetings going late into the night, it is interesting to note that only a few years ago, the issue was that some council meetings were too short. It still happens from time to time, that issues in front of Council are easier in nature and are dealt with fairly quickly. The resolution to limit Council questions to three per round (still unlimited rounds) was only meant to ensure that no Councilor could monopolize the question period by going first and asking questions for an hour. There are other tools at the disposal of Council to control meetings. The Chairpersons of each Council meeting have the power to move things along without limiting debate. Clearly written resolutions and proper advance consultation would also help streamline the process.
I believe that ultimately the citizens want a balanced approach with Council concentrating more on policy directives and less on the day-to-day details of the operation. After all, while there is growth in some areas, Council still has to deal with a shrinking tax base and declining/stable population along with increasing responsibilities as a result of the ever changing nature of the role of Municipal Councils. These challenges should be enough to keep everybody focused on what is really important, the present and future well being of our community. The accomplishment of such goals, and not how soon Councilors can go home on Monday nights, should be their measure of success.
Frank Pullia is a Councillor at Large. He can be reached at 767-6579 or via e-mail at email@example.com