OP/ED: Council needs to get organized

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
November 26th, 2010

Despite the intrigue of tension and challenge between councillors at the last Grand Forks council meeting, I feel compelled to rant about their process – or rather lack of. No – I am not going to dig into the sudden decision to fund the museum or the lack of referendum on a service agreement of $120,000 but the need to do one for $50,000, but if you were watching the meeting on Monday what floored me was the two-hour grant-in-aid discussion.   Despite a fairly logical request by Councillor Joy Davies to table the grant-in-aid discussion until council could review and discuss requests from the community, they proceeded with an incredibly odd way of deciding on precious money. Without clear direction about who could receive grants, maximum amounts, and starting at the top of a random list, council spent two hours in debate. Basically, if you were at the top of the list you were probably better placed to get money than if you were at the bottom. And no, the list was not alphabetical! Now I know that this council ran with a deliberate aim to have open discussion and accountability to the public. Last council was just a group of yea-sayers in public even if they had debate in private, and that was less than palatable for most citizens. But where this council has erred is that they don’t have a structure for their process and at any point in time they are blind-sided by sudden motions, put on the spot for important decisions, and generally make policy up as they go.   This rather painful evening is not the first in which this council has clearly demonstrated a lack of process. Doggy park consultations suddenly disappear when a location is proposed that won’t anger the BMX race organizers, sports fields move around and change size randomly, and regular interjections of unexpected topics onto the agenda drag out meetings with even the shortest initial agenda.   It may be difficult to find a balance between open, accountable process and effective decision making; but this council needs to revise the way it does business. Over their term council has been extremely reluctant to form standing committees, but those committees that have been the most effective over the years have shown to be exactly that – recognized standing committees whose work is accepted at the council table. Ad hoc and short term committees have not received the same respect.   But if council doesn’t want to get bogged down or blind-sided, committees are the way to go. Committees are more accessible to the public, concerns can be heard and vetted, and important recommendations can come forward. Without a solid structure, council is doomed to continue to make flash decisions and to lack process while overburdening their administrative staff. 

Its time that council does some real strategic planning – look at how the city is operating and make some important changes. Don’t just talk about what you can do so you get re-elected. It can only serve to your benefit and save some of us the pain of four hour meetings. 

Categories: Op/EdPolitics