A Saanich councillor wants to limit the length of meetings.
Coun. Judy Brownoff has submitted a report to council in which she notes that council, committee of the whole meetings, and public hearings have gone well beyond 11 p.m. A review of recent meetings confirms this point.
Councillors met not once, but twice for more than six hours in June alone, first on June 10 for a special council meeting followed by a committee of the whole meeting, then again on June 18 for a public hearing that actually included a pizza break for councillors, staff and the public. The day before — June 17 — councillors had met for more than four hours. On July 8, councillors met for more than four hours.
“Members of the public are noting their concern with [council]’s effective decision making ability and the public’s input into the late hours of the evening or next morning,” said Brownoff in her report.
Other councillors have made a comparable argument.
As councillors were debating Natural Saanich, ambitious process to replace the rescinded Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw, during the early morning hours of June 11, Coun. Susan Brice urged her colleagues to press the pause debate on the debate, citing among others reasons the hour.
“I just don’t think good decisions are made early in the morning, quite frankly,” she said.
Brownoff would now like to see all types of council meetings end by 10 p.m. Unless a two-thirds majority of council extend the meeting, the chair would have the power to declare another meeting date and time to deal with any outstanding issues.
If extended, the meeting would continue until 11 p.m. “[And] if there are still agenda items the [chair] will declare a date and time for those items to be dealt with,” she said in her report.
If council were to change Saanich’s procedure bylaw, it would come some two years after Saanich council voted to alternate between regular council meetings and committee-of-the-whole meetings to cut down the length of meetings. “After several hours of concentration, especially late at night, the ‘intellectual capacity’ of any group is compromised by mental fatigue,” said a staff report at the time. “This can lead to less effective communications, and reduced decision-making quality.”
The public, however, had also heard at the time that meetings themselves might not get any shorter, with staff saying that it would be hard to foresee the length of meetings. Then-mayor Richard Atwell said the length of meetings depends on the number of contentious issues and council’s ability to limit and schedule them.