An amazing thing happened Wednesday at this term’s first city council meeting. Councillors discussed, debated and disagreed on the specifics of a 289-page governance review for more than two-and-a-half hours.
And yet the sky didn’t fall, there was no sign of dysfunction, and council seemed actually more productive than ever. There were even a few compromise motions passed, with a welcome absence of grandstanding. Could this be the dawn of a new era around the council horseshoe?
It’s the earliest of days yet, but the tone at council is already different than four years ago. More than half the newbies — councillors Catherine McKenney, Jeff Leiper, Tobi Nussbaum, Riley Brockington and Jean Cloutier — appeared well-versed in the contents of the governance tome and brought intelligent questions and well-considered improvements.
They didn’t showboat, but they weren’t afraid to disagree with Mayor Jim Watson’s stated preferences, either. It all seemed very grown up.
Leiper, for example, moved a motion to punt an item on budget procedure to next week’s council meeting when the budget process is to be hashed out more fully. The new Kitchissippi councillor — along with many others — is worried about the inflexibility of the budget practice, in particular the seeming inability to make any significant changes to the document once the draft is released.
But after numerous assurances from Watson and senior city staff that money actually can be moved among departmental envelopes at the final budget meeting, Leiper withdrew his motion. Reasonable.
As was Nussbaum’s so-called Goldilocks compromise motion on changes to the gift-registry disclosure threshold. In the year or so that the gift registry rules have been in place, councillors had to register any gift worth more than $30. Some councillors argued that the supposedly low threshold was capturing trinket-type thank you gifts that the registry was never mean to address. The staff recommendation was to raise the disclosure level to $150.
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