Meeting held March 7, 2023
Procedural bylaws changed to avoid past conflicts
An Ad hoc committee comprised of Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon and councilors Jamie Restoule, Daniel Gagné, Anne Tessier, along with CAO Jay Barbeau and Municipal Clerk Mélanie Ducharme, presented revisions to the procedural bylaw. The committee made the proposals “to update to match legislation and to resolve past issues,” explained Barbeau. Among the proposed changes was a formal adoption of “Consent Agenda”, reading all the resolutions that don’t require discussion in one go, in order to allow more time for discussion of pressing issues. Barbeau explained that it doesn’t mean something can’t be pulled out for discussion if a councilor feels the matter requires discussion.
Also on the table, Special Meetings will no longer be called by the mayor if it’s clear quorum cannot be achieved. “What we don’t want to have repeated is the instance where knowingly we come to this Chamber and wait, knowing that you’ll never achieve quorum. …Staff [and council] are paid to give their time… It’s important that they don’t give that time needlessly.” It was clarified that when voting on a resolution, a tie vote constitutes a negative vote.
In matters of decorum, publicly expressed personal criticism or remarks on a person’s integrity will be prohibited. Electronic participation in meetings will continue if required, with Barbeau remarking, “It’s the hope that all members meet in person as much as possible… The bylaw will speak to electronic participation when it isn’t safe to be in-person, or with express permission of the chair for a variety of reasons.” The recordings of closed meetings will be maintained as part of records retention. Selection of Committee Chairs will now reflect the decision of council as a whole, not solely the mayor, although the final appointment will be at the mayor’s discretion.
In matters of debate, the changes stipulate new limits to “the length and number of times a member may speak on a matter, to facilitate all members have an opportunity to speak and to ensure that debate not turn into a protracted argument,” and to stop members from speaking more than twice on the same matter, outside of asking for clarification. “What we’re trying to do here, and what the committee discussed and agreed upon, is that if it’s very clear that certain individuals have a specific point and other individuals have another point and there’s no consensus or change… it becomes an argument. It really doesn’t become a debate because there’s no new information,” explained Barbeau.
The mayor or chair will not be allowed to expel a member for breach of conduct without a general vote, and the offending member may remain in his or her seat if an apology is forthcoming. A new addition to the procedural bylaw is allowing a motion to postpone an item indefinitely to “allow a means by which council may refuse to deal with a motion which is frivolous or vexatious, or which may prove embarrassing to a member or council as a whole”.
Mayor Thorne Rochon commented, “A lot of our discussion as an ad hoc committee was focused on really putting a lot of the control back into council as a whole …that there is not an unequal distribution of power… the mayor being but one voice of nine. It is a really important point and I think it needed to be focused on in the procedural bylaw.”
In terms of council/staff/public relations, “No individual council member may direct staff to perform such duties that have not been authorized by resolution of council.” The mayor remains the spokesperson for council when it comes to media and other levels of government. If a council member decides to make a public pronouncement that has not been approved or adopted, it will be expressed as “being their own personal opinion and not that of council as a whole.” Agenda items will be presented to staff with a reasonable amount of time, 14 days for them to produce required research or reports and 7 days if no report is required. If something on the agenda cannot be dealt with at the meeting, the item will move to the subsequent meeting. The mayor and CAO “shall meet to discuss the upcoming agendas,” and the agenda will be distributed “by 4:30 PM on the Thursday preceding a regular scheduled Council meeting”, a full day earlier than currently.
Mayor Thorne Rochon told council that the numerous changes to the procedural bylaw will govern how the council functions for the next four years, adding that nothing is carved in stone. “If you don’t understand or you don’t agree with how it’s been written or you’d like to see some changes, this is the time.” Coun. Anne Tessier, who sat on the ad hoc committee, said she wanted regular staff reports on a variety of operational issues, citing current policies of “accountability and transparency”, and “the principle that the municipality will be responsible to its stakeholders for decisions made and policies implemented, as well as its actions and or inactions” and “the principle that the municipality actively encourages and fosters stakeholder participation and openness in its decision making processes”.
Asked what specifically she would like to see and how often, she mentioned reports on service requests, “to see how many service requests we receive for which departments; if they’re answered, or if they’re still standing and for what reasons,” and suggested that some reports come to every meeting, and that part of the purpose was to measure the CAOs performance. Barbeau recommended Coun. Tessier put it as an agenda item for discussion. “I’d like Council to debate and discuss specifics …and then we can provide you an update with what reports we already provide… My intention is to provide a CAO’s report, an operational report, which is aligned with your term plan. In order to measure my success, as you indicate … based on the efficient and effective delivery of services … on time, on budget, and meeting strategic directives that Council has identified.”
Coun. Roch St-Louis questioned Tessier’s intent. “Are you looking for the staff to provide us with reports at every meeting? …Or are you looking for a specific report? …If you’re asking staff to provide us with all their reports at every meeting, we’re never going to get through an agenda by 9:30 at night.” Barbeau also questioned the intent. “There are certain statements that are being made on accountability,” he said. “What is it that you want to do? Do you want to be day-to-day overseers of management? … I have nothing, nor does any staff…to hide… I think that that needs to be clarified because I’m getting a sense that there might be some conflict or difference and interpretation of goals at council.”
Mayor Thorne Rochon suggested the accountability and transparency policy come before council as a separate agenda item as “a way to address councilor Tessier’s concerns within the framework that’s already there …[allowing] us to move forward on the procedural bylaw issue while still looking at what your concerns are around reporting, and information that you think may be missing from our purview.” Tessier agreed.
With a final addition of limiting delegations to 15 minutes presentation time, suggested by Coun. Kris Rivard, the changes to the Procedural Bylaw were approved by show of hands.
Lobbying for Champlain bridge replacement, more Internet coverage
The Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA) Conference is being held on April 16 – 19 in Toronto. Mayor Thorne Rochon will be attending and asked for suggestions as this conference provides opportunity to speak with provincial delegates. CAO Barbeau recommended the mayor advocate on behalf of the Champlain Bridge construction, which will cost at least $15 million for the required replacement. The municipal portion of 10% was determined to be too much, and “The risk of not doing those replacements or those upgrades or replacing the bridge is that there would be no bridge… Basically we’re shutting down the Trans Canada highway and we have John St. for local traffic.” For Connecting Link construction, 90% of the cost is borne by the province, 10% by the municipality with a cap of $5 million. “That’s not going to work… There’s too much risk for our ability and resources. We could advocate with them to take over ownership of the bridge in its entirety… They have way more resources to manage a project of this magnitude with their engineering team… The general request is to get a delegation with Minister Mulroney and to make our case very strongly that we’re going to need some help.” He suggested getting the support of North Bay and Sudbury, as a closed Trans Canada highway would have huge impact.
Coun. Jérôme Courchesne noted that bringing affordable and reliable Internet to all corners of the municipality is a priority and should be brought forward. “There’s been almost $100 million awarded for communities in Ontario to bring in municipal broadband and connectivity” with a goal of having everyone on high speed by 2025-2030. “Maybe we can look into exploring that opportunity,” suggested Courchesne. Mayor Thorne Rochon and CAO Barbeau advised they had already been contacted by the award recipient for this area, Cogeco, requesting more information about coverage in West Nipissing. Thorne Rochon said, “We’ve seen some preliminary maps which show a very nice coverage area of the Highway 64 corridor through the underserved areas of Field,” with Cogeco expected to open service to at least 1000 new households. Courchesne suggested to push the message at OGRA.
Planning and building fees to increase
Another debate on trailer park sale
New Integrity Commissioner