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Council scraps committee of the whole system

Elliot Lake Council will return to standing committees
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Elliot Lake City Council voted Monday night to end its second trial of the Committee of the Whole (CoW) system, in a decision that will reinstate the former Standing Committee method of Council operations and scheduling.

Elliot Lake CAO Daniel Gagnon told Council, "I just thought I would pre-empt the trial. The (CoW) trial period was set to end at the end of mid to late January. I'm just thinking out loud."

"Are we going to learn any more between now and January on the Committee of the Whole compared to the Standing Committees?  I think we've got a glimpse of what it would look like, pre-empted by COVID and then, you know, extended to January.

"It would appear to me that the Committee of the Whole, just kind of perpetuates the stigma that we're in a perpetual Council meeting. Every meeting turns into the pomp and circumstance of a Council meeting whether you're in committee, or not. 

"The main concern I have with this is Committees are supposed to be a little bit more free flowing, a little less formal. Maybe it's just the fact that we're in the Council Chambers but it just ends up feeling like we're in a perpetual Committee, or a Council meeting.

"It also places the burden on the clerk to be perpetually preparing agendas, minutes, chasing department heads for agenda items on Wednesdays, posting on Thursdays, and then you're back at it again. As soon as you're done your minutes, you're back into it again," concluded Gagnon.

Councillor Norman Mann missed attending a few meetings recently, but  said he hardly noticed, "I've missed two meetings this month. But I honestly don't feel like I've missed anything, with all due respect."

"I missed one Committee of the Whole meeting. And honestly, I think we could have had two meetings in the month of November instead of four. I don't believe that we're getting any of the work done that needs to be done. 

"We have a couple of very large files that we talk about regularly. We talk about bylaw, we talk about enforcement, yet we're not getting into those matters at a detail level that we have in the past," concluded Mann.

Councillor Luc Cyr asked, "Why is it that the permanent staff cannot on a rotation basis share the duties of taking the minutes for the Committee of the Whole meetings?"

"Why is it that our work is being designed for staff preferences, while we in the private world have no such luxury? I hate working three or four weekends every month, including Sundays, but that's the nature of my work.

"When it comes to city staff, since that's the reason, in my view, the city clerk needs more help. And that is what I will support," stated Cyr.

Councillor Sandy Finamore has been one of strongest detractors of CoW.

She said, "I don't value the time spent at Committee the Whole as much as I did the Standing Committees because they were more focused."

"Mr. Halloch (Director of Public Works Daryl Halloch) did a very good job of bringing his issues forward but sometimes I feel like that's the only issues that we were getting to see."

"I think that we need to have more focused meetings on bylaw and planning on Finance and Audit and Parks and Rec. I just feel that the other system was more focused and we got more work done. 

"I feel now we just deal with the tip of the iceberg each meeting, and we're not delving into the depths of each department as we need to be. There's a lot of work that needs to be done," continued Finamore.

"It's just I want that time to be valuable for the staff, as well as for Council. I appreciate the fact that our clerk is behind the eight ball with the Committee of the Whole and I think that that can be shared more equitably.

"We've got some great talented department heads and I think that they can do their share of the work. I just think that there's a better way to do it. We've tried it. We've seen how it worked

For me it doesn't work," Finamore concluded.

Councillor Ed Pearce added, "Lord, we have got a lot of work to do on Planning. We've also got a lot of work to do in Economic Development."

"We've got an awful lot of work to do on the things like the Hub committee and the Arts committee and all the other things that we're not dealing with.

"To Councillor Cyr's point of openness and transparency, continued Pearce, "I agree that it's difficult for members of the community to attend council or committee meetings but they will get the information that is discussed."

"What a committee, a working committee allows council to do is to delve down into the problem and come up with solutions that they can then bring to Council.

"The Committee of the Whole does not allow for that. We don't have that much time that we're going to spend: five, six hours every Monday night going through the kind of things that we need to discuss," concluded Pearce.

Mayor Dan Marchisella said he was ambivalent, "I don't mind Committee of  the Whole, I didn't mind Standing Committees either. I just find that with the Committee of the Whole; I'll use Mr. Halloch (Public Works Director Daryl Halloch), as an example."

"It gives him the opportunity to bring items, every second week and continue operations flowing fairly smoothly and quickly. 

"It's also the accessibility and planning for community members. They know every Monday night at seven o'clock, they can watch Council; whether it's in Committee of the Whole or in a Council meeting. So they have that opportunity. 

"We also have one other glaring issue that perhaps Council will have to revisit if we go back to Standing Committees.

"Last November 25, Council removed Councillor Patrie from all committees, other than committees that are of the whole of council.

"So with the Committee of the Whole, Councillor Patrie is a part of our committee. If we go back to Standing it's something we might have to revisit in the future," the Mayor concluded.

In the end, Council voted 6 to 1 to go back to Standing Committees. The lone dissenter was Councillor Cyr. The issue of Councillor Patrie's attendance will be discussed at a future meeting.


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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