A new policy governing discussions between Whitehorse city council and administration — and restricting public access to those sessions — could be in place as early as July 8.
That’s when Whitehorse city council is scheduled to vote on a new council and administration roundtable policy that would replace the current council and senior management (CASM) policy that governs the more informal meetings between council and city staff.
Those meetings typically allow for a more detailed discussion between staff and council before a recommendation is brought to a formal council meeting. They are typically held about once a week over a noon hour if there is an issue to look at.
By adopting the new roundtable policy, the city would repeal the current CASM policy. CASMs are open to the public but roundtables would not be.
Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, brought forward the recommendation for the new policy after initially putting the idea to council at a June 13 CASM.
She said there’s been changes in how the CASM meetings are conducted over time and the current policy doesn’t conform to the territory’s Municipal Act or general municipal governance.
Constable said the new “roundtable” discussions would differ from CASMs in a number of ways including: keeping them as internal sessions “to support frank, efficient and productive discussions;” that staff will chair the meetings rather than council members to enable full participation by council; providing clear guidelines for discussions; and ensuring the discussions don’t resemble the more formal processes of council.
She highlighted a 2012 report by the B.C. ombudsperson that looked at best practices for local government in bringing forward the proposed policy.
Answering questions from Coun. Samson Hartland, Constable said when there are public present at the meetings council and staff don’t seem to be as transparent in their discussion which can lead to confusion on how an issue moves forward.
Constable stressed that under the proposed policy the meetings would provide for more of an open-ended discussion among council where no recommendations would come forward. Rather this would allow for an exchange of ideas where the pros and cons of various options could be weighed.
Actual decisions would all happen within open formal council meetings, she stressed.
Coun. Steve Roddick, who attended the July 2 council meeting by phone, voiced his agreement that it’s important for mayor and council to have frank and open discussions about issues.
“I think this new framework allow us to do this,” he said.
Coun. Laura Cabott, meanwhile, questioned how often the CASM sessions currently have “visitors” with Constable noting it has varied over the years.
Cabott also noted her hope for a more open discussion on issues so that members “can really dig in” and look at ideas and options available on any given issue.
City manager Linda Rapp, meanwhile, suggested the new format could mean more details from the roundtable sessions coming forward in the administrative reports that are presented to council at the formal council meetings.
Mayor Dan Curtis, who was also attending by phone, said the CASM meetings aren’t often attended by the public with the media showing up at times.
“It’s minuscule at least,” he said of public attendance, describing the meetings as not being high on most people’s priority list.
Curtis also said he’s pleased with the provision that will see administration chair the meeting rather than a member of council. He noted it can be difficult to take part in the discussion as meeting chair and this will allow for all of council to take part in the discussion.
The roundtables would also not require a quorum of council because the sessions are not seen as a formal meeting.
Under the process outlined in the proposed policy, the roundtable discussions would begin with a presentation by city staff on the issue at hand ahead of the general discussion.
While meeting notes will be taken, they would only be circulated among the “internal participants”.
Coun. Dan Boyd said he’s pleased to see changes come forward, noting there’s been issues with the CASM sessions for a long time.
Council is scheduled to vote on the new policy, which would repeal with CASM policy, on July 8.
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