One of a council’s most important documents would likely be considered among its most boring by the general public.
A procedural bylaw is the governing document for how municipal councils conduct their business. It can regulate how bylaws are passed, motions are raised, delegations speaking to council and public notices issued among dozens of other details that can rarely be thought of in the minutiae of governance.
While reports, studies and the day-to-day work is what keeps a municipality moving, the fine print of bylaws are the foundation for municipal governance.
A proposed change to Canmore’s procedural bylaw – now postponed and set to undergo an independent review by a yet-to-be-selected governance expert – originally had the Town’s CAO and municipal clerk potentially getting the right to call points of order on council.
The two positions are among the most important roles administratively. The CAO is meant to be the bridge between council and staff, meaning they often have to skillfully balance the wants and needs of what can sometimes be varying degrees of interests and responsibilities.
The guardian of such documents like procedural bylaws are municipal clerks, the unsung heroes of the municipal world, who have a finite working knowledge that can regularly keep council and committee meetings humming along.
Though the sandbox is often big enough for both council and municipal staff, it’s simply not designed to handle both.
The bylaw also proposed removing public question period, though rarely used, is an option for the public to question council and adds another layer to the accountability of elected officials.
After the agenda was released – which is public – people pushed back. Motions brought by one councillor led to the brakes being pumped to avoid the possibility of the bylaw being rammed through and to take a closer look at what the implications could be of such changes.
The independent review will examine council's procedural bylaw, which could lead to the status quo being maintained or to wholesale changes, while staff will return with potential replacements for question period, which were non-existent in the original recommendation.
As with all employment sectors, it’s important to have a fresh set of eyes to analyze if what is being done could be done differently. With thousands of municipalities across the province, it’s unlikely two procedural bylaws are one in the same with some ranging from a page or two to several dozen pages.
Each community and region has its own scenarios, issues and various ways the public provides feedback.
Banff council went through several meetings late last year to get to their updated procedural bylaw. What began as potentially limiting debate and seen as an administrative overreach became toned down and provided clarity and leeway for elected officials.
A re-examination of the procedural bylaw could give Canmore a refresh to adapt or modify the way its council does its business. In Banff, for example, council regularly meets for governance and finance committee and council. Decisions are brought to governance and finance, debated potentially multiple times with public feedback and eventually head to council where they again can be debated several times before being passed, amended or rejected.
It can seem like a marathon in creating policy and making decisions, but no one can say the public didn’t have a chance to discuss pressing topics and that anything was rammed through.
At times it can feel everyone has to be rowing in the same direction, but it’s important to create an environment that allows openness for dissent and opposing views.
Though people may view something as viewed as misleading or being taken out of context – which can often be confused for spin – it’s OK for people to have different views and come to opposing conclusions. Sometimes several of those people providing feedback have more than 40 years of experience on a topic, other times it’s simply a resident upset about a buildup of ice on the road, paid parking or Airbnb’s in the community.
While it’s common to be sensitive or defensive to criticism, the ultimate goal is to have the best documents, guiding vision and governance available and securely maintain governance roles.