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Committee of the Whole trial at Elliot Lake Council clears a hurdle

If approved, the new model would likely begin in the new year
2018-04-02 Elliot Lake City Hall KS-2
Elliot Lake City Hall file photo. Kris Svela for ElliotLakeToday

Elliot Lake Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Gagnon outlined his reasons for advocating a six month trial for a Committee of the Whole (CoW) council system at City Council's regular meeting Tuesday night.

It was a tough sell, but eventually, his plan moved on to the next stage.

Councillor Chris Patrie observed that the CoW model had been put in place in the previous term of Council in 2017 and then was rescinded. He argued the idea shouldn't be brought forward again unless the pitch is accompanied by "new and pertinent information."

His argument was overruled.

Councillor Ed Pearce said, "I'm not sure what Councillor Patrie is trying to get at here. That (trial period) was passed very early in 2017, I believe. It was a six-month trial and it didn't work, for a number of reasons."

"This is not a motion to reconsider. It is an item from the Chief Administrative Officer and personally I'm in favour of it," Pearce added.

But Patrie also wondered whether switching to the Commiittee of the Whole model for council in Elliot Lake would be an effective use of city staff time.

"We have staff sitting here for an entire meeting and we're paying our staff to be here for that entire meeting," Patrie said. "That is a burden to the taxpayers."

"When we are having standing committees we're only bringing staff that belong to those departments so they don't have to be sitting here for the duration of the meeting," Patrie added.

In his argument in favour, Gagnon said, "The previous retiring clerk (Leslie Sprague) didn't appreciate the Committee of the Whole.process and discussing with the present clerk (Natalie Bray), she's more open to the process."

"I observed several things probably similar to the concept of why the trial was done in 2017," Gagnon added. "We've had some difficulty with meetings being cancelled for lack of a quorum and other sorts of challenges with items getting on agendas and the moving target of standing committee meetings at various dates and times."

"I see this as an opportunity to sort of double down on the use of Escribe and electronic agendas and to try to get more practical, pragmatic decision making and processes, moving a litte bit more efficiently, in my opinion," Gagnon also said.

"The fact that it's always on Monday sort of writes off your Mondays but you know you can plan ahead in terms of staff and council. I.just think it's a more practical approach to getting information in front of council and minimizing delays with the agendas," Gagnon concluded.

Councillor Luc Cyr said, "As far as I'm concerned, the last Committee of the Whole was working quite well until we started having trouble with the councillors."

"Second, I think council needs to keep in mind what best serves the public. We all say we want to get the public more engaged and more involved with being present," Cyr added.

"If it's always the same Monday, it makes it easy for the public at large. Every Monday they can come to a council meeting or a committee meeting. So when you're predictable, you can start building your audience for people," Cyr concluded.

Councillor Norman Mann said he didn't support the Committee of the Whole system in the last term and is leaning that way this time.

"I prefer to start making decisions that affect the municipality and the residents and what they're up to, as opposed to the seven people on this horseshoe," Mann said.

"I just feel that we're stuck on a bunch of process-related items. With the committees that I chair I haven't had any issues on this term on quorum so far. So I'm not sure where that comment's coming from. And if there are other committees that have issues that's up to that committee to figure that piece out," Mann added. 

Gagnon explained that senior staff are not paid for their time at committee meetings, that they receive days off in lieu of overtime.

Mayor Dan Marchisella said he favored the trial saying he'd like to see something different done.

In the end, council voted 4-3 to ask Gagnon to bring back options for a six-month trial of the CoW model. If approved, it would likely start in the new year.

About the Author: Brent Sleightholm

As a reporter, Brent has covered everything from amateur and professional sports, to politics, entertainment, police and courts, to human interest stories and government issues
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