Whitehorse city councillors are sworn in 2015. Council meetings are divided into two separate categories: standing committees and regular council. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

The beginner’s guide to city hall

Got a beef with city hall? Unsure where to start? Here are the basics

Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis appeared with his typical gavel — and an atypical crab hat, the result of a lost bet with the mayor of Juneau — to preside over council functions July 10. While most people know there are weekly council meetings, not everyone may be aware of how these meetings function or how the voting outcomes at these meetings affect the day to day workings of the city and the citizens who live here.

Council meetings are held every Monday night at 5:30 p.m., and are divided into two separate categories: standing committees and regular council. Standing committee meetings are informational meetings, where city staff present information on items and issues to council. Council then has a week to mull these issues over before they are presented again for a vote at regular council meetings.

“No decisions are made at standing committee meetings,” said city clerk Norma Felker. “One is info and the other (regular council) is decision.”

Standing committee and regular council meetings are rotating, with committee meetings typically the first and third monday of each month and regular council meetings the second and fourth meeting of each month.

Bylaws governing everything from budget amendments for public works projects to taxi regulations — are voted on at regular council meetings.

Blyaws must undergo three readings before they can be approved, Felker said. Typically the first and second reading, can be done at the same regular council session, but they cannot all be done in one sitting. First readings are simply the formal introduction of the bill. Votes at this stage are typically a formality. Second reading is where extended debate among councillors often happens.

Finally, at third reading, councillors vote on whether to pass the bylaw. It is only after this final vote is held and a bylaw is approved that it is said to have passed or been adopted. It is only at this point that a bylaw is enforceable, she said.

Standing committee meetings also provide space for public hearings, which must be held in instances where “at least one person will object” to the motion being voted on, said Felker. This applies to things like local improvement charges (LICs), such as the one recently voted down by Hillcrest residents, or land use changes, such as the much-contested proposed infill lots. Both of these issues have received multiple public hearings, which are mandated by the territorial Municipal Act, said Felker.

Standing committee meetings are typically where delegates speak, said Felker. A delegate is any citizen who wishes to speak to the council on a matter they feel is of concern to the city. At a committee meeting, anyone may speak on any topic, but at regular council meetings, delegations are limited to items on the agenda. Delegates have five minutes to speak, and may be asked follow up questions by councillors.

So how do issues get put before council? City staff decides what to put on the agenda based on the projects currently underway, such as the approval to take out a $18.8-million loan for the operations building project, which will receive third and final reading at the July 24 regular council meeting. There are also annually recurring issues, such as the awarding of contracts for winter road services, which came up at the July 3 standing committee meeting and were awarded the following week at the July 10 regular meeting.

Felker said it is important that people know they are welcome to speak at city hall and that the public is welcome to participate in and attend meetings.

“All meetings are open to the public,” she said. “Municipal government is close to home and it’s the stuff that affects our day-to-day lives.”

Information about city council meetings or on how to register as a delegate, plus agendas and the minutes of past meetings is available at www.whitehorse.ca.

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com

 

Mayor Dan Curtis sports a fun hat after losing a bet with the mayor of Juneau. (Lori Garrison/Yukon News)