Sunday, December 05, 2010

City Council governance notes

There are a whole bunch of governance-related recommendations to City Council, including a number of additional reports linked at the bottom of that 66-page one. These are recommendations like establishing a Transit Commission and a Board of Health, and restructuring City Committees and how they run their meetings.

I'm still going through it all, but there are a couple of interesting, sometimes ironic, elements:

- The report says the clerk's office spoke with outgoing members of council for their feedback on what to fix in the upcoming term, but not all incoming members. However, many mentions are made of discussions with the incoming mayor, but none with the outgoing one. (Probably a good thing--he's 'fixed' enough already!)

- For all the talk about creating a Transit commission, the only thing that will effectively change is that instead of being a committee of 9 Councillors, it will be 8 councillors and 3 citizen appointees. For all the desire for OC Transpo to be "fixed", the report talks a heck of a lot about how much won't change.

- The governance report expounds the City's goals of public input, yet the recommendations are not being heard at any Committee (including Committee of the Whole) where members of the public will be able to speak to any of these recommendations.

- Interestingly, the Ottawa Community Housing Corporation wants to add an additional community-member seat to its board, in order to allow retiring Councillor Peggy Feltmate to continue her activities. If I read things right, this will put the representation of councillors to non-councillors on the board at 50/50.

- The feedback from Advisory Committees includes recommendations from something referred to as "EDAC", without any references to the full name of the committee. Ironically, this is the Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee, whose job it presumably would be to ensure that people can understand what's going on at City Hall.

- The Advisory Committee (AC) feedback document contains a lot of duplication, since each committee wrote them separately based on a joint meeting of AC chairs and vice-chairs. I'm pretty sure that these joint-AC initiatives were instigated by the Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee, yet there is no feedback from that committee listed here.

- There is a draft petition policy, meaning that petitions you may have submitted to Council in the past had no official standing. The new policy comes with some pretty stringent standards:

Petition Requirements
  • The petition must be addressed to the City of Ottawa/ Ottawa City Council and request a particular action within the authority of Council.
  • Petitions must be legible, typewritten or printed in ink (no pencil)
  • The text of the petition must be listed at the top of each page for multiple-page petitions. Pages should be numbered and total number of pages indicated.
  • The petition must be appropriate and respectful in tone, and must not contain any improper or offensive language or information.
  • Each petitioner must print and sign his or her own name. A paper petition must contain original signatures only, written directly on the petition.
  • Each petitioner must provide his or her full address.
  • For electronic petitions, petitioners must provide name, address and a valid e-mail address.
  • The petition must clearly disclose on each page that it will be considered a public document at the City of Ottawa and that information contained in it may be subject to the scrutiny of the City and other members of the general public.
Submission of Petitions
  • Petitions containing original signatures should be sent to the attention of the City Clerk by mail or delivered in person to Ottawa City Hall or and City of Ottawa Client Service Centre.
  • Petitions may also be submitted to the Mayor or any member of City Council.
  • Electronic Petitions may be submitted electronically the attention of the City Clerk at
  • All petitions that meet the above standards will be presented to Council at its next regular meeting, or the meeting at which the subject of the petition is to be discussed.
  • Standing Committees cannot formally accept petitions. Petitions received at Standing Committees will be forwarded to the Clerk and presented to full Council at its next regular meeting, or the meeting at which the subject of the petition is to be discussed
  • Council has the discretion to accept the petition, and Council’s decision is final.
It's nice that they're accepting electronic petitions (easier to manage on their end, too!), but I wonder what happens to all the petitions that were started before this policy comes into force? Will this mean that petitions that would have previously been received (albeit without formal protocol) will be outright refused and can't even be submitted informally?

The report is a thorough, if dry, review of the City's existing and proposed governance structure. While I'd recommend it for people who participate in municipal affairs, I don't think it's required reading, unless you work in City Hall yourself. It's more of a theoretical framework than a practical guide of how you can participate. Read the main recommendations (summarized in bold at the beginning of the governance review document) and skim over the document for items of interest, including the attachments.

There are some curiosities, like the ones listed above, but for the most part it's housekeeping. Yes, things will change, but that's a given with any new mayor and council.

- RG>

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