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Meetings on the move

Council defeats motion to have public survey on changes

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

When the calendar turns to 2020, Oshawa council meetings will be shifting from the p.m. to the a.m.

At the Dec. 2 meeting, councillors officially approved a motion to move start times for regular meetings from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 a.m.

The motion, originally introduced by Ward 2 city and regional councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri, will also see the city move to a four-week meeting schedule rotation, abandoning the current three-week practice.

This new schedule will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

The change to day meetings was supported by a seven to four vote, with Mayor Dan Carter and councillors Bob Chapman, Derek Giberson, John Gray, Jane Hurst, Marimpietri and Bradley Marks in favour.

Councillors Brian Nicholson, Rosemary McConkey, John Neal and Rick Kerr were opposed.

Marimpietri did not speak on the motion before the vote, but stated on a previous occasion he believes moving the meetings puts Oshawa in line with other municipalities, including Durham Region and City of Toronto.

He also noted it would mean some cost savings for the city, as a number of staff rack up considerable overtime during marathon meetings.

Ward 5 city councillor John Gray attempted to have the four-week schedule rotation dropped from the motion through an amendment.

Gray said he felt it would “back up” staff and councillors in some of the work they needed to do.

Gray’s regional colleague Brian Nicholson argued the longer turnaround there is between committee and council meetings, the longer it takes to address the needs and concerns of the public.

Noting regional council meets on a four-week schedule, Chapman said having council meetings one week after committee meetings leaves very little time for reports and information to come back.

Gray’s amendment was ultimately defeated by a seven to four vote, with Nicholson, McConkey and Neal also in support.

McConkey then appealed for a public survey on the matter through Connect Oshawa.

She said the City of London is contemplating a similar schedule change and has been holding public consultations for months.

“We have to go through the public process like we have with so many other things,” McConkey said.

Nicholson said those in favour of the motion were using “selective facts” to back up their opinions.

Recalling many councillors had campaigned on being “transparent and accountable,” Nicholson questioned why council was “so afraid to ask the public.”

“The public is integral to the process of municipal government,” he said.

On the public survey, Marks said he didn’t believe it would receive much attention from the public either way.

Also to him, as elected officials, the public has entrusted council to make certain decisions without having to go through formal consultations.

Giberson said there has been sufficient opportunities for people to provide feedback.

He noted he posted about the issue on his Facebook page, but it received little, if any, interest.

Regarding a public survey, Giberson also felt it wouldn’t draw much attention, and would likely be skewed towards a negative opinion, because those who are in support of the move, or indifferent, probably wouldn’t respond.

But Ward 4 city and regional councillor Rick Kerr said he read multiple discussions on the issue on Facebook, and many residents voiced their opposition.

He also called for the public survey.

“Let’s put it out there, and if nobody responds, what does that tell you, maybe it’s not that big of a deal. At least we’ll have something to go on,” he said.

McConkey’s motion to hold the public survey was also defeated by a seven to four vote, with her, Neal, Nicholson and Kerr in favour.

Gray said he favoured moving the meetings to the morning, because both council and staff may not be as sharp as they need to be during late meetings.

While he said it may not be “the perfect solution,” he believes, “most of us are going to be a lot fresher if we start in the morning…”

Hurst said it is incumbent upon council to embrace change, and she doesn’t like shooting down ideas before they’ve been in put into practice.

Speaking in support of the change, Chapman said it was not in the interest of council’s comfort, but what is the “most cost effective, efficient” option.

He rebuffed the notion council was ignoring the public on the matter.

“Each one of us is supposed to make a decision on the facts we are provided, and the input we get, whether it’s on the council floor or from the people we serve,” he said.