Tie vote nixes COW meetings in Ukee

Where’s the beef?

While they will undoubtedly continue grazing on the idea, Ucluelet’s municipal council will keep COW meetings out of their pasture for now.

A tie vote during last week’s regular council meeting has, temporarily at least, quashed Mayor Dianne St. Jacques’ hopes to bring twice-monthly Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings to council’s 2015 schedule.

COW meetings are open to the public and serve as a forum for council to discuss district business and what items will be added to upcoming regular council meeting agendas.

Tofino’s council holds COW meetings once a month, but COW meetings have not been a part of Ucluelet’s council schedule since 2008.

During her successful mayoral bid last year, St. Jacques expressed her desire to bring COW meetings back to Ucluelet and she made her first attempt at doing so during last week’s regular meeting.

St. Jacques made a motion to hold COW meetings on the first and third Tuesday of each month but was met with opposition from councillors Sally Mole and Randy Oliwa, the only two council members who were on Ucluelet’s council last term.

“I’m going to vote against this motion. I think that in my experience with local government COWs tend to be a bit of a makework project,” Mole said.

Mole served as Tofino’s Director of Parks and Recreation for about 20 years before being elected to Ucluelet’s council in 2013.

“I know how much meetings cause grief to staff and how they do make work for staff,” she said.

Ucluelet holds regular council meetings twice a month except for July, August, September and December where they meet once a month and Mole said throwing twicemonthly COW meetings into the mix would have council meeting every week most months.

“It means more meeting time and I don’t think that we’re saving anything there, in fact I think we’re making staff work more,” she said.

Mole added that council could not make any formal decisions at COW meetings.

“You can’t actually do anything,” she said.

“What happens at a COW meeting is that you make a recommendation to recommend to council the following week to take action, so there’s no real action that can be taken.”

She said she would support monthly COW meetings but was opposed to holding two a month for the rest of the year.

Coun. Randy Oliwa said COW meetings could expedite the process of getting Ucluelet’s new mayor and council up to speed on the district’s projects and priorities but he was unwilling to sign on for a full year’s worth without trying them out first.

He said he would support twice-monthly COW meetings for the year’s first quarter and reassessing after that.

“There is a lot on the plate right now so I’d be in favour of the COWs at this time and something I’ve learned on council is that nothing’s permanent; we can change at any time,” he said.

“I’d be voting in favour of the COWS for now at least until I was comfortable that this council was up to speed…I’d like to give them a shot and see how they work.”

Mole agreed with Oliwa’s suggestion to hold twice-monthly COW meetings for the year’s first quarter but St. Jacques declined to budge from her full-year motion.

“I think at this point in time, we’re already in the middle of January, the first quarter only gives you two and a half months and there’s spring break and holidays. I don’t think that’s a long enough time period,” St. Jacques said.

“I would like to see us run it for 2015, taking the summer breaks that council always takes and the winter break at Christmas time and review it at that time.”

She said COW meetings were an important part of her last Mayoral tenure, which ran from 1999-2008.

“We all knew what was going on all the time and I found that with a small council everybody does want that information, they want to know where things stand and how things are moving forward,” she said.

“I see them as really good opportunities for us as a community and for us as a council to keep each other up to speed, to get to know each other better, (and) to accomplish our goals.”

She said COW meetings would make council available to the public more often and suggested the meetings are a part of council’s current salaries.

“Certainly the stipends of the councillors have gone up substantially since my last term and I appreciate that and I think it’s well deserved, everybody works very hard. The Committee of the Whole meetings are a part of the stipend so on the budget side there is that for consideration,” she said.

“I certainly don’t like meetings for the sake of meetings, nobody does that, but I think there’s a good value to the Committee of the Whole meetings.”

When it came time to vote, Oliwa and Mole voted against the motion while St. Jacques and Coun. Mayco Noel, who did not participate in the discussion, voted in favour. The 2-2 tie defeated the motion and there was no immediate discussion to reach a compromise though council will likely hash out the issue at future meetings.

Coun. Marilyn McEwen was absent from the meeting but will be back at the council table in February.

A scheduled COW meeting for Tuesday, Jan. 20, was expected to go ahead as planned.

reporter@westerlynews.ca