Being at the same committee meeting doesn’t mean everyone on the board will actually be on the same page without a little effort on both sides of the divide.
Monday of this week marked a new era in municipal politics in Thompson, with the reintroduction of an all-structure committee for town and council affairs, as opposed to the previous model of multiple standing committees, each headed by different advisors.
It is, of course, somewhat unusual to pass such a significant change three years into a term, eight months before the election of the next mayor and council, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. . Of course, that doesn’t mean it will either.
One of the benefits of the new committee system is that it could help each councilor feel more connected to the decisions they are responsible for making and more informed about the background and rationale for the issues they are asked to vote on. . When the standing committee structure was still in place, nothing prevented a councilor from sitting on any meeting of a committee of which he was not a member, even if he was not counted as a voting member. In theory, however, committee decisions are made by consensus, so there are no actual votes to count, and ultimately the decision on committee consensus rests with the chairman, who is now the mayor.
The abolition of the multiple standing committees also removes the brazen display of favoritism or sharing of ideas that took place during the annual organizational meeting, when the mayor chose the presidents of the committees, with the exception of those filled ex officio by the deputy mayor, who of course is also a councilor appointed by the mayor. For councilors who often clashed with the mayor, they sometimes felt like unathletic kids in gym class when teams were picked. The plum spots went to jocks or popular kids and they ended up with the dregs or nothing at all.
The full-structure committee also allows councilors who work during the day to participate and have a say in matters at the committee level. Meetings are held at 7:00 p.m. on Mondays, alternating with regular council meetings, which are held at the same time during the intervening weeks. This schedule, along with the fact that these meetings will be streamed on the internet and also recorded for uploading to the city’s Facebook and YouTube accounts, will also make the meetings more accessible to members of the public, or at least more than meetings standing committees, which usually met during business hours on weekdays.
A final benefit of the new structure is that the committee will meet every two weeks, instead of once a month like some standing committees, which should expedite the process of resolving issues that require additional study or information before that a decision can be made.
Ultimately, however, the city council and the city are human organizations and are subject to the same craziness and trappings as any other group of people. For the change in committee structure to have a meaningful effect on the functioning of the city and council, those involved, including councilors and city administration, will need to make good faith efforts to agree and the interests of the city as a whole before their own or those of a particular interest group or constituency. Given the resentment that has characterized this advice at times (something Thompson hasn’t seen in previous advice), it’s probably too much to expect all the advisors to join hands and sing kumbaya just at because of a functional change. Although there are no formal government and opposition sides as in provincial and federal elected bodies, de facto sides do exist. Bipartisanship requires compromises from both sides and it is currently far from certain that this particular council can even go halfway.