The decision to separate regular council meetings from committee-of-the-whole meetings has shown some early but inconclusive results in reducing the length of meetings.
“We will need to see a full year of implementation before we fully can see the outcomes of this change,” said Paul Thorkelsson, chief administrative officer (CAO). “However, in general, it appears the change has reduced the number of long meetings. As noted, the data on that is really only useful after a full year cycle as the workload for [council] varies through the year. As CAO, I have certainly appreciated less 14 hour days back to back of late.”
Thorkelsson made these comments after Monday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting. It lasted 47 minutes. The first regular council meeting of 2018 lasted two hours and 28 minutes.
Council approved the alternation between regular council meetings and committee-of-the-whole meetings on Sept. 19. The change came into effect on Oct. 2.
Council’s decision to separate meetings came after a report from Ken Watson, director of legislative services, in which he warned against letting meetings go past 11 p.m. Since May 2016, 30 per cent of all meetings that started at 7 p.m. adjourned after the stipulated adjournment time of 11 p.m, according to the report. The average meeting adjourned at 10:15 p.m., the latest at 1:37 a.m.
Thorkelsson said very long meetings can have an impact on staff, who are required to attend council. “Generally, we balance the attendance of [department] representatives such that individuals are not required for back to back long meetings, though that does occasionally occur,” he said.
For example, directors, who attend a late night council meeting will often have other representatives at a public hearing scheduled for the next night. This said, staff, who attend council or public hearing meetings are required to attend work the next day, unless it has been booked off as leave, said Thorkelsson.
As for the direct financial costs of long council meetings, they vary. “The cost in terms of staff time and [overtime] is not fixed for a particular regular meeting,” said Thorkelsson. “Most of the [staff] that attend at [council] are senior managers who receive an annual exempt special allowance in lieu of overtime for attendance at meetings of this sort,” he said.
“Administrative unionized staff that attend may receive overtime pay for the meeting relating to the length of the particular meeting.”
Monday’s 47-minute-long meeting with its three agenda items also raises another question: could Saanich have delegated the items rather than have a full albeit short meeting?
“We are always looking for changes to processes that can make [council]’s work more effective and efficient,” said Thorkelsson. “At the present time there are no additional changes under consideration.”
This said, the governance review citizen advisory committee (GRCAC) has suggested Saanich consider some opportunities for additional delegation at the staff level for greater efficiency, said Thorkelsson.” Work is underway in that regard as outlined during [council]’s discussions of the recommendations from the GRCAC,” he said.
Any changes, however, to council’s status as the statutorily designated decision making authority would require a bylaw, said Thorkelsson.