Epilogue first: Council reached consensus to POSTPONE th
e amendment of this bylaw. Minutes of the meeting will likely be online within a couple days.
(Update: The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods has submitted a letter to Council opposing the proposed amendments and pointing out numerous issues that need to be addressed. See list added to bottom of this post.) City Staff seek to exert more control over Vancouver City Hall by changing the rules of Council meetings, just as the city embarks upon a four year process to develop a City-wide Plan. The text of proposed changes was just made public a few days ago.
Just a few of the important changes being proposed include …
- cutting the time members of the public are permitted to speak at committee meetings from 5 minutes down to 3 minutes
- limiting the scope of discussions
- increasing the lead time required for Councillors to bring forward motions
- (Conversely, staff want to be allowed to continue to bringing forward reports to Council at the last minute, without warning.)
- See more below
We encourage people to get familiar with this and let City Council know your views immediately. Watch for updates – we will provide more info by Twitter and in this post.
In addition to the above points, this report also contains proposed changes …
- to keep video archives of Council meetings online for only four years
- strengthen the power of the meeting Chair
- ban applause from the gallery
- explicitly empower the City Manager to comment on all advisory committee reports to Council.
- prohibit the public from questioning or challenging statements by city staff on issues in staff reports to Council or general comments by staff
- permit electronic meetings by Council, although the proposal has no restrictions on what could be discussed our decided, or how the public will be able to scrutinize their elected officials’ deliberations, or how Council will be accountable to the public (e.g., broadcast live and recorded for later viewing)
- City Council members would have to submit motions on notice two meetings prior (to being put on the agenda, not one as it is now); also motions introduced in Council would not be heard the next meeting (but rather two meetings down the road)
There are other concerns not covered in this post, still being identified.
The report is submitted to Council in the name of the City Clerk, and unsurprisingly, “the City Manager is recommending that Council adopt the changes.”
An ominous implication regarding the timing is that Vancouver is setting forth upon a four-year process to create a City-wide Plan. Is the stage being set to reduce the public’s rightful voice in the planning process and increase the power of the staff and those who can influence them?
In 2012 CityHallWatch reported extensively on changes to this Bylaw brought in under the then Vision Vancouver regime at City Hall. Another attempt on the Procedures Bylaw was about to be made but abandoned just prior to the October 2018 civic election. It appears this new attempt to curtail the public voice and empower staff is a revival of the wheels set in motion then. The end of July is a strategic time for getting changes through Council with minimal public attention. We have seen this pattern before – for example with Vancouver’s Regional Context Statement under the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy.
Time is short. But it is now very important for Vancouver citizens to pay attention, read up, and speak out to your elected officials. Once changed, the rules of engagement between the you the citizens and your elected officials could tilt further away from you.
Our currently-sitting members of Council should treat this matter with extreme caution and think long term. If this goes the wrong way, they could end up playing a part in the long-term erosion of democratic principles in our municipal government. The next civic election is in 2022 and the composition of Council will always change in the next election and every subsequent four years. Without careful consideration, checks and balances, rules our current Council puts in place could end up being abused, even if they think the changes might be innocuous now. These proposals were developed and proposed by staff without any meaningful public input. Council members have had very little time to review them and consult more broadly with citizens. They would be wise to do so.
CityHallWatch coverage of previous changes to Procedure Bylaw in 2012:
List of concerns from Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods. See full letter here:
Proposed Amendments to the procedure Bylaw No. 9756 and New Pilot Program
Many of the proposed amendments are anti-democratic by reducing the relationship between elected officials and the electors they are responsible to represent. For example, the text proposes that:
- Council members’ motions require 2 meetings advance notice (4 weeks). This is much longer than the current bylaw which requires only 1 week, or the current pilot of 1 meeting notice (2 weeks). (9.1, 9.3)
- Meanwhile, there is no change to current practices of last minute staff reports and Council agendas, which should be required 2 weeks in advance of the Council meeting. (3.3)
- Only one speaker or representative per organization be allowed. This ignores the fact that individuals within an organization may personally have different issues or concerns. (7.5)
- Councillor’s questions to speakers cannot be leading to allow speakers more time. (7.7)
- The proposed new pilot program would not allow Councillors questions to speakers at all.
- Speakers’ time reduced from 5 minutes to 3 minutes and groups from 8 min. to 5 min. when the report states that the majority of the public did not support this change. ( 7.5, 7.7,13.18)
- Moving of Councillors’ motion are only allowed to be 2 minutes, when speakers get 3 minutes, and restrictions on Councillors citing their preamble. (9.6)
- Public hearing agendas are proposed to only be made public 3 business days before the hearing. It should be posted at least 2 weeks before the hearing. (13.7)
- Electronic meetings are proposed to be allowed for special Council meetings and In-Camera meetings. There are concerns that this is premature, especially regarding public participation and for what kind of issues would be allowed in special Council meetings. (Part 14,14.2)
- Special Council meetings have no definitions and can be initiated by the Mayor without a Council vote. (Definitions, 2.5)
- Councillor’s motions are being redefined as a referral report that doesn’t allow speakers from the public.
- A new definition of improper conduct has been added that could result in Councillors being removed from the meeting. It also poses restrictions on the public, advisory committee members, and councillors from being critical of the city or staff policy, programs or practices. This could be in conflict with the Vancouver Charter as well as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (Definitions, 4.4(e), 7.8)
- It removes the pilot of 3 pm hard start at Council committee to hear from speakers on Councillor’s motions that was to make speaking times more predictable for the public.
- Bylaw circulation to Council doesn’t require links to reports or red line copy showing changes. (10.1)
- The bylaw should restore the deleted clause that restricts a Councillor who has been absent from an entire public hearing from voting. (former 18.27 to be added as 13.26)
- The expanded role of City Manager to comment on advisory committee reports undermines the independence of advisory committees. (15.15)
- There are many issues that require clarifying language regarding: public hearings and meetings in general election year should be restricted until the new council turnover not just to election day; the recording of meetings and clarification of archived videos being easily accessible online; the public’s rights to record public meetings; the processes related to requests by the public to speak; limits on reconsideration of an adopted motion; authenticating of public comments; and more. (2.3, 2.9, 3.14, 7.3, 8.6, 8.14, 13.11)