A lasting relationship takes work, and the city’s relationship with its volunteer Environmental Advisory Committee is no exception.
In Jan. 2013, the committee proposed for council’s consideration updates to its terms of reference with the city. Council asked staff to review the provided revisions before making a decision.
At council’s regular meeting last Monday, city corporate officer Corey Paiement provided his report on the committee’s terms of reference, current and proposed. In short, Paiement recommended the terms not be changed, but that the relationship between city council and staff and the committee be re-established in order to “maximize the benefits of the committee, including its advice about city bylaws/policies related to the environment and undertaking education projects.”
Contrary to one of the committee’s proposed revisions, that “Purpose of the Committee” section be removed, Paiement argued it is important that each committee have a clearly defined purpose. In addition, he said there needs to be a clear understanding what a committee’s role is – that its focus should be on specific topics within the city’s mandate.
“What’s happened over the years is that council and staff appear to idly engage the committee, and not done so on a regular basis, and in the absence of being engaged by the city, the committee has often identified its own topics,” explained Paiement. “In doing so, many times those topics have been beyond the mandate of the city. So when the committee made a recommendation to council, council may not have accepted those or supported those, and the committee felt they were under-utilized and their recommendations not supported.”
Paiement said he thought it worthwhile the relationship between the city and its committee be re-established but, if it cannot be, council should consider disbanding the committee.
“Right now, I think there’s some frustration among committee members who want to partake more in city business as it relates to the environment and the city wishes to engage that and enhance that relationship and, moving forward, that could probably work well,” said Paiement.
Coun. Debbie Cannon commented on how councillors chair so many committees and that she sometimes finds herself wondering “what we are doing and what are we expecting to be the outcome?”
“I almost think that we need to look at all of the committees that we work on and what are we expecting from those committees, and do we need to meet as often as we do,” said Cannon. “Because everyone’s time is valuable and sometimes you just feel like you’re on a treadmill and getting nowhere. That’s what I feel.”
Coun. Marg Kentel, who chairs the environment committee, concurred with Paiement that there is a level of frustration among committee members. She suggested current relationship issues may stem from past incarnations of the committee, which she described as more of a “lobby group.” Kentel said this is not the case anymore, and asked that council refrain from making a decision until it hears from one of the committee members, Tim Dunne, who will be making a presentation at a future meeting.
“Sometimes, I think with committees you do feel like you’re spinning your wheels, as chair anyways,” said Kentel. “However, we live in a democracy and people want to have input.
“If, at this table, we arbitrarily say this committee doesn’t work or that committee doesn’t work, are we being fair to the public? We’re in a day and age whether we like it or not where people are really informed and want to participate.”