We’ve only just begun

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In a rather fortuitous sharing of minds, I was about to write an article on the municipality’s Advisory Committees, when a letter to the Editor arrived asking questions on that very same topic [https://ngtimes.ca/letters-to-the-editor/]. So, in an unusual situation, the questions and the answers can appear on the same page. Aren’t we efficient! I should be transparent at this point and note that I am a member of the Heritage Advisory Committee which was appointed recently.

Under this new Council, there are nine such Advisory Committees, including the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing struck in January, and the Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee, which began work in April. The other committees have yet to meet, though I understand that there will be an introductory meeting for each one later this month, with formal monthly meetings starting in October.

The reason it has taken so long to get the committees off the ground is that the Terms of Reference for each one were completely redrafted, in order to have them reflect the aims of the committees under the new regime. In addition, four of the committees are completely new and their Terms of Reference were basically drafted from scratch. These are the Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Arts and Culture, Environmental Action, and Health, Wellness and Fitness committees.

Public notices invited interested residents of North Grenville to apply to serve on a committee, and applicants had to fill in an application questionnaire. Council then evaluated the qualifications and experience of applicants in the context of the committee for which they applied, and chose those who will fill the positions. In the event, more applications were received than could be accommodated on the committees, such was the interest shown by qualified residents. To deal with the overflow, it is planned to invite various individuals to attend meetings of committees on an ad hoc basis, where it is felt their expertise would be useful.

Committees are appointed only for the life of the council, that is, until the next municipal election. This normally means four years, but, given the late appointments, it will be a term of just over three years instead. The question was asked: Did we obtain qualified individuals? The reason for the application process was precisely to find committee members who were qualified in the field covered by the committee, and one can only assume that this is what was done. The one thing that any process cannot guarantee, however, is that the specific combination of members on a committee will work well together, or be as productive as the process expects.

That will largely depend on individual personalities, and on the abilities of the Chair of each committee. In a departure from previous practice, Chairs will not be members of Council, although each committee will have two Councillors or Mayor assigned to them. The Chair will be chosen by the members of each committee.

These are Advisory Committees, and their “powers”, as such, are simply to provide advice to Council. That, too, will vary from committee to committee. In the past, some committees emphasised their advisory status, and waited until they were asked before giving advice. Unfortunately, previous Councils usually failed to ask for advice, or refused it when offered. It is hoped, and expected, that the current council will show more collegiality in that regard.

The main idea behind having such committees is to give the public some input into decisions made by council: to allow residents to attend committee meetings, which are open to the public, and provide their insights and ideas, which can then be transmitted to council in regular reports of the committees.

“How many of these committee members will act in the interests of taxpayers?” Members, by and large, are taxpayers, or have shown a willingness to donate their time and expertise to the community. Why would they act against their own interests? “Do committee members have the right to rebuke and criticize members of the public who raise questions about their activities?” Definitely not. The person who did so was not acting as a committee member, or with any authority. It was, in my opinion, both rude and arrogant. If that attitude continues to display itself, then I imagine they may depart the committee as quickly as some members of council did when they didn’t get their own way.

But we are just starting this new experiment in Committees of Council under a new regime, and I have great hopes that it will mean a much greater involvement of the community at large in deciding the future direction of the Municipality of North Grenville. It is what many of us have been calling for for years, and now we must put up, or shut up. We’re ready to go.

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