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Nicholson takes aim at bylaw “flaws”

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

A Ward 5 councillor believes the city’s procedural by-law contains flaws which impede the power of Oshawa’s publicly-elected officials.

At a recent corporate services committee meeting, two aspects of the by-law sparked lengthy debate.

As it stands, visiting councillors cannot introduce motions at meetings of council’s standing committees.

Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson believes this creates a “two-tiered” system for councillors.

Nicholson said the Municipal Act states all members of council have a voice at committee.

“Voice means the right to bring items before the attention of committee,” he said.

Councillors may introduce a notice of motion during a council meeting, which is then referred to committee. However, it requires council approval.

They could also ask a committee member to bring it to the meeting.

However, Nicholson argues this leads to a “very convoluted process.”

He wants any council member to have the ability to introduce a motion for discussion at a committee meeting. He is not, however, asking for them to able to make motions during a meeting.

Residents can also request to have items put on an agenda, a fact not lost on Nicholson in his argument.

“A citizen has more rights to add an item to committee agenda than members of council who are not on the committee,” he said.

Mayor Dan Carter said the current system works.

“It’s set so visiting members have the opportunity to work with committee members. It’s a great way to collaborate, and find ways to move things forward… I believe the process we have at this point works well,” he said.

The number of new motions coming forward in this term of council concerns the mayor.

Noting there are many outstanding items, he wonders where staff will find the time to deal with everything.

Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey seemed irked by the mayor’s comments.

“I believe every one of the members of council were campaigning for change. How do we make change unless we initiate some notice of motions or motions,” she asked. “It’s not all up to staff. What we hear from the public is what we are to follow up with.”

The matter was ultimately referred back to staff.

Members also debated whether to allow correspondence or delegations related to staff performance, labour relations and ongoing legal proceedings on committee or council agendas.

The Oshawa Professional Firefighters Association has long desired to speak to council regarding a number of concerns about fire service in the city.

However, their requests have been denied on the grounds it relates to labour relations. Seven councillors voted to allow the union to speak at a meeting earlier this year.

However, such an act requires a two-thirds majority, eight votes in favour.

Under the procedural by-law, this decision is currently made by the city clerk’s office.

Nicholson said this should solely be the decision of council.

“Under the current procedure, staff makes decisions, staff decide what council can see,” he said. “Right now, the 11 members elected by the residents of Oshawa are not involved in this process.”

According to a staff report, in this case allowing the clerk to use discretion limits the risk related to public discussion regarding to ongoing legal proceedings, or disclosure of confidential information related to employees, labour relations or collective bargaining.

However, Nicholson said these matters could be addressed in closed session; he just wants council to make the final decision.

McConkey questioned if there was any real risk to the city.

“How as a council can we not take ownership of the meetings? Are we not able to avoid risk to the corporation, is that the worry?” she asked.

However, city solicitor Sam Yoon explained the risk is “quite tangible” should council decide to discuss these matters publicly.

But McConkey said the city is hurting its own transparency.

“You get people suspicious, concerned and alarmed. And it just grows. When something is blocked at the clerk’s office from coming to committee and council, it becomes alarming,” she states.

“We have a bigger and better role to play in what comes to us.”

For Ward 2 city councillor Jane Hurst, she needed more clarity and asked for a further staff report by Sept. 30. Hurst said she wasn’t on council to “micromanage” the city departments.

“I’m very concerned to hear language that the clerk’s office is blocking us,” she added.

Her referral motion lost on a three to two vote with Carter, Nicholson and Ward 4 city councillor Derek Giberson opposed. Committee chair Bradley Marks was in support, while Ward 1 regional councillor John Neal was absent.

Committee recommended keeping the status quo, with Carter, Hurst, and Marks in support. Nicholson and Giberson voted in opposition.