Revelstoke city council has opted to move much of its business out of the public eye.
After an absence that covered the vast majority of the previous council’s three-year term, the Revelstoke cable company has returned a videographer to council meetings.
Unfortunately, this return of another transparent view of council proceedings has also coincided with a change that will likely make council less transparent. City council has opted to move away from the Committee of the Whole system, relegating much discussion of city business to a series of meetings that take place through the week from morning to evening across the city.
The Committee of the Whole system amounted to a ‘meeting before the meeting’ where all councillors could weigh in on any given issue, allowing for greater public debate and transparency.
The new system will hide these ‘public’ debates away at meetings that are so numerous that no local media outlet will likely make a dent at attending many of them.
Another detail of the new system will mean only ‘action’ items will be discussed at the council table. The remainder of committee business will be tucked away on committee minutes; although these committee sessions can have other useful purposes, their ability to change city policies and bylaws will be limited by this change.
If they want action (and committee members want to prove their membership on the committee is more than place-holding or resume-padding), city committees will have to rock the boat and be focused in a way that several of them haven’t been during the past term. For example, in the last term the environmental advisory committee’s recommendations often didn’t get to council for months and were often poorly conceived and worded and easily outmanoeuvred or dismissed by any opponents at council. Although that committee did see through some useful initiatives, there were many more that were simply brushed aside at the council table for lack of strategic planning and working the system right.
Why has council adopted this new system, which is in fact a repeal of an experiment that was tried during the last term? Much public discussion at previous council meetings was dominated by councillors Halberstadt, Johnston and Scarcella – two of whom were outsiders on that council, the other somewhat. The ‘silent majority’ could be heard by the grinding of their gritted teeth when sensitive city business was discussed in a public forum.
What’s the danger? Less transparency. For example, the new cost recovery bylaw introduced at the Jan. 24 meeting was given first two readings as if consensus was behind. If the didn’t attend a planning, building and advisory committee meeting the week before, by watching the non-debate on TV, you’d have no idea some constituents at that meeting were very opposed to the change. Under the old system, at least there was a chance their concerns would make it to the council table.
Council’s Jan. 24 meeting slipped by with next to no substantive debate on anything. It was over in a snap. Is this a democratic improvement?