Kamloops city council has eliminated standing committees following a recommendation to do so by city staff — a move that comes in response to changes Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson made to the groups this past spring.
In March, the mayor appointed nine members of the public — most of whom are his friends and political backers — to standing committees, and removed three councillors from their chair positions.
The mayor’s changes were within his power but rebuked by all other members of council, which then exercised their ability to review the terms of reference for standing committees via a council select committee that included the mayor. The committee made myriad suggestions council has since approved, but the mayor has voted against. One of those suggestions asked staff to recommend maintaining or dissolving standing committees.
On Tuesday, July 11, staff recommended council dissolve the five standing committees — civic operations, community relations and reconciliation, community and protective services, development and sustainability and finance. Any tasks those committees were in the middle of addressing will be reassigned to either an appropriate select committee or council’s committee of the whole, and engagement groups, which feature members of the public, will now report to either a select committee or committee of the whole.
The motion passed by an 7-1 vote with only Hamer-Jackson opposed. Coun. Katie Neustaeter was not in attendance for the meeting.
Hamer-Jackson questioned the legality of dissolving standing committees, stating it went against section 141 of the Community Charter, which states mayor must establish standing committees. He suggested the city seek outside legal advice on the matter, but was told by corporate officer Maria Mazzotta staff had already received guidance that the move was in line with the Community Charter. She explained she could not specify in an open meeting whether or not the city received legal advice on the matter from its own legal team due to solicitor-client privilege. She also said that while section 141 gives the mayor power to establish committees, it is “silent” on the proposal of dissolving them.
Coun. Nancy Bepple questioned how often committee of the whole meetings would be held with standing committees dissolved, to which Mazzotta said it would depend on the number of select committees active at any given time.
“I think we’ll see over time that each select committee will last as long as it needs to,” Mazzotta said.
She said the select committees could be dissolved once serving their purpose and their mandate and duration set as they are presented to council for a majority vote needed to be established.
“It gives so much more flexibility to meet the needs of the organization as they emerge, and to ensure once those needs are met, nobody’s putting unnecessary effort into something,” Mazzotta said of select committees.
In addition to the dissolution of standing committees, city staff have presented council with a new hybrid structure to use moving forward, with the option to establish either a select or standing committee on an ad hoc basis as seen fit. Standing committees are broader in scope, whereas select committee are more narrow and task oriented. Select committees had not been operated under the previous council term and staff suggested one standing committee that could benefit from using the select model was the standing committee on finance, which dealt primarily with a pair of items.
While standing committees were paused council established four select committees — community policing, reconciliation, service agreement renewals and Build Kamloops.
Later in the meeting, following the vote, Hamer-Jackson said he still intended to hold standing committees, adding that he did not know if the dissolution was lawful, despite being advised otherwise by Mazzotta.
While the mayor may strike and select members of standing committees, they cannot operate unless 50 per cent of membership is made of council members, who are not obligated to participate.
Also on Tuesday, council officially dissolved the governance select committee that reviewed standing committees.
In addition to the hybrid model and a recommendation on dissolving standing committees, city staff are expected to, later this year, recommend amending council’s procedure bylaw, as requested by the governance select committee. Those suggested amendments will involve defining the authority and operational procedures for standing and select committees, creating a standard terms of reference template for future committees and a standardized process for appointing public members to standing, select and subcommittees.
– By Michael Potestio