Tofino’s council wants to meet more often next year.
Council is second guessing a scheduling shakeup decision made at the end of 2013 that saw its regular meetings drop from 20 to 17 a year by stretching its twice monthly format to every three weeks.
Prior to that change, enacted in January 2014, council had met on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month except for July, August and December, which each hosted one meeting to allow for summer and Christmas breaks.
Tofino’s then manager of corporate services Jane Armstrong had lobbied for the scheduling shift to give staff more time to prepare for each meeting.
“The present two week gap between Council meetings does not give staff and advisors adequate time to take direction from Council, act on that direction and return to the matter to Council at the next regular meeting,” Armstrong wrote in a report submitted to council on Dec. 10, 2013.
Councillors supported Armstong’s request at the time but have since changed their minds after seeing the impact meeting less frequently has had on their ability to conduct district business efficiently.
During Oct. 4’s regular meeting, council directed staff to put together a revised schedule for 2017 that would follow the former twice-monthly format.
District CAO Bob MacPherson said staff supports meeting more frequently.
“Given workload and the number of things we’re seeing ourselves bringing to council, I think getting back to every two weeks would be just fine,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that many more meetings in a year, it just means that we’re all together a little bit more regularly.”
He added scheduled meetings could be cancelled during the summer and around the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in September.
“We typically take a summer recess,” he said.
Coun. Duncan McMaster spoke against taking a summer break.
“I’m not happy with the summer recess. That’s when issues seem to come up around town more and more,” he said.
“I find that if a member of the public has a complaint about something and they just happen to not get it in in time, people get upset that they have to wait a month or six weeks to get it into the next one.
He suggested scheduling two meetings every month, including the summer, and cancelling them if needed.
Mayor Josie Osborne spoke against filling summer’s season with meetings.
“Yeah, issues come up because they’re top of mind in that exact moment at a time when we can’t do anything about it,” she said.
“I mean, we can do some things about it, like put in more dog poop [bag] dispensers, but when it comes to changing parking plans and the things that we hear about in the summer, I’m not sure meeting to be able to receive those things is the best use of our time.”
She added the district’s staff addresses public feedback between council meetings.
“If people feel that they can’t get their questions answered in a timely way, we need to think about how and where the questions are being asked to and how we handle the correspondence,” she said.
“When a letter with a complaint comes in, it’s not like it just goes onto a pause button and waits to go to council. Often, staff will act on it before and then let us know what’s being done.”
She acknowledged holding just two regular meetings between July 1-Aug. 31 creates a gap in public engagement but suggested the district look for ways to collect feedback outside council chambers.
“Maybe there’s a different or better way we can deal with people’s complaints so that it doesn’t have to necessarily come to a council meeting in the form of correspondence,” she said.
McMaster doubted such a method exists.
“We haven’t found one yet,” he said.
Coun. Al Anderson said he’d need more time to consider how often to meet during the summer.
“Currently we have mostly a retired council and it might be convenient for everyone to show up more often in the summer, but that isn’t always the case depending on who’s elected,” he said.
“The other part of it is, I think, we have to realize that staff is also vacationing during the summer and may not have as much time to prepare council meetings.”
Council seemed to agree on a compromise that would see three meetings held between July 1-Aug. 31 instead of just two and staff was told to present a draft schedule at Oct. 25’s regular meeting.
Council did not discuss changing the regular meeting time from 10 a.m.
Any scheduling changes won’t take effect until January 2017.