Carew’s committee criticism met with big defence

By Mark Squibb/August 19, 2022

Headline: Carew says new rules causing delays in communication

Deck: Mayor, councillors, staff say proper protocol a necessity

By Mark Squibb

Councillor Glen Carew has once again expressed his displeasure with committee rules that he says cause unnecessary delays in relaying information to residents.

“I would once again like to express my concern with the terms of reference for committees that was drafted by Corporate Services and passed by council in a public meeting on March 1 of this year,” said Carew during council’s round table discussion August 2. “Your Worship, I’m sure you all remember that I was the only contrary minded vote on that motion, and as I stated in the discussion, my primary reason for voting against it was I felt that it would result in an unnecessary delay of timely follow up with residents on important matters discussed and actioned at committee.”

Carew said that according to the new terms of reference, action items, including follow up with residents, have to wait for ratification of committee minutes at the following public council meeting. As an example, Carew said, a resident of Sunvalley Drive had brought forward a concern months ago on which the Town’s response has been anything but timely.

“We did promise this resident timely follow up some time back, and your Worship, the last Planning and Protective Services meeting when this matter was discussed by committee was July 7, and we actioned that the resident be provided the most recent update on that file, and of course because of the terms of reference, these minutes had to be refenced by council in the July 21 public meeting, and your Worship, the resident did not get that update until July 27 — after the resident had once again reached out to a couple of councillors — myself, and councillor Vaters, and Deputy Mayor Street I do believe — looking for an update, as promised,” said Carew. “And your Worship, that’s almost three weeks for a simple update. That’s not acceptable.”

He said that, according to discourse from the March 1 meeting when the new terms were approved, the changes were supposed to improve channels of communication.

“My major concern had been realised, and this resident is slipping between the cracks, and getting buried in unnecessary bureaucracy,” said Carew.

He said this particular situation was but one example, and he hoped the terms of reference would be sent back to Corporate Services to be amened.

After Carew finished, CAO Lisa Niblock and Corporate Services committee chairperson Elizabeth Laurie raised their hands for comment, with Niblock taking the floor first.

“The terms of reference only put down what our normal protocol has been forever for the Town of Paradise, and for most other councils in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Niblock, who noted the Town was simply following protocol.

She also spoke briefly to the particular situation referenced by Carew, and said the information the resident was requesting was information the Town would not release due to privacy concerns.

“It has come to my attention the information that he (councillor Carew) would like to provide to the resident isn’t actually what we would provide,” said Niblock. “So, the only information we would provide is what is available in the public minutes of council. The actions that we have decided on a certain property owner are not the interest of a neighbouring property. We don’t share that information about a specific file with anyone else for privacy.”

She also added the Town is currently short-staffed.

“We are short-staffed right now in the Planning Department and we’ve asked council to bear with us and have patience while we fill some positions, and deal with COVID and annual leaves,” said Niblock.

Councillor Laurie echoed Niblock in saying that although the practise was formally adopted in March, it had been in effect much longer —at least two years.

“The framework for our terms of reference is set out by the Municipalities Act,” said Laurie. “The terms of reference provide transparency and accountability for all of our decision making, and it also provides an opportunity for non-members of committee on council to actually speak to committee decisions here in the public council meetings. And I feel that we should be careful that we don’t get ahead of ourselves by providing feedback or decisions to residents before all of council have had an opportunity to view committee meeting minutes. We could find ourselves in a situation where we could find a committee is recommending something that the majority of council is not in agreement with.”

Laurie said she sympathizes with residents who want answers ASAP, but that it could cause more delays and negative financial implications in the long-term.

Laurie said she’s glad the Town has such policies, and staff are very competent and able to do the work. She also reminded council that in pressing situations, council can vote in an electronic e-mail poll, something they do frequently.

Councillor Patrick Martin said he has been ‘blindsided’ by apparent leaks from the committee meetings to residents.

“There have been a couple of instances where we’ve come out of committee meetings, and I’ve been messaged or called by a resident with information that was shared, that should not have been shared until the rest of council had seen it,” said Martin. “I’ve been blindsided a couple of times. And I think everybody on council deserves to see everything that’s going on and approve it, so everyone is up to date.”

Mayor Dan Bobbett reiterated what the others had said about the ratification process being proper protocol.

“We’ve always operated that way, ever since I’ve been on council,” said Bobbett.

He added that maintaining privacy for all residents is of utmost importance.

Carew then said the matter was not necessarily about relaying information about a decision that had been made, but simply of relaying the most recent information.

“All I’m saying is that we need to be a little bit more expeditious in responding to residents after these minutes are ratified,” said Carew.

Bobbett said staff do respond to residents within an appropriate timeframe.

“You made the comment that this is uncalled for, but this is procedure,” said Bobbett. “You’ve got to know this procedure, this is the way this procedure works. Again, this is parliamentary procedure. So, residents are notified after we ratify at a public council meeting.”

Niblock then came to the defense of town staff.

“I do have to speak for staff that are here or who are watching the meeting,” said Niblock. “They are working diligently. We have seven vacancies in the Planning and Protective Services Department right now, and the people who are working are still entitled to leave and have time off, and I know Alton (planning director Alton Glenn) has scheduled overtime for the people who are there, and they’re working very hard at what they do.”

With that, Mayor Dan Bobbett called the discussion to a close.

No motion was made to send the regulations back to committee for discussion or amendment.

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