Nanaimo city councillors have agreed to move to eliminate committee of the whole meetings. (File photo)

Nanaimo city councillors to eliminate committee of the whole meetings

COW meetings would be replaced with new committee

Nanaimo councillors are doing away with committee of the whole meetings.

During a special council meeting on Jan. 14, city councillors voted unanimously in favour of having staff develop terms of reference for a brand new committee called Governance and Priorities Committee, which would eventually replace committee of the whole meetings. Staff have until March 1 to develop terms of reference for the new committee.

The Governance and Priorities Committee (GPC) would include all members of council, serve as an open forum for councillors and members of the public to have in-depth discussions on a few selected topics and recommendations made during meetings would be provided to council for consideration, according to Coun. Erin Hemmens, who brought forward the motion regarding the new committee.

“I would really like an opportunity where we have one or two issues on the table that are really pertinent that we really need to get into and it is not necessarily in this format where we all press our mics and so on,” Hemmens said. “I would just like to have a conversation and the space to have that.”

As a novice member of council, Hemmens said she had trouble distinguishing the differences between a committee of the whole meeting and a council meeting at first.

“I know there [are] some very clear distinctions. One is decision making, one is discussion, but for me that delineation wasn’t entirely clear and there were times during those committee of the whole meetings where I really expected a big long debate,” she said. “We didn’t get there and I think in many ways that is because we run our committee of the whole meetings very much like a council meeting.”

Hemmens, who sat on the city’s community engagement committee and the community vitality committee before becoming a councillor, said she wants members of the public to be able to participate in discussions at GPC meetings.

“It is intended to be an open forum and that we are allowed and welcome to invite members of the public for content,” she said.

Coun. Tyler Brown said he fully supported the new committee, calling it a “key first step” to replacing the city’s governance model.

While he was supportive of the motion, Coun. Ian Thorpe said he was felt it was “possibly premature” because councillors have already had discussions around potentially restructuring committees.

“I don’t think our committee of the whole is a whole lot different than what this purposed committee would look like,” he said. “So, I am willing to support it, I don’t disagree with the intent. I just think we are going there anyway and we will also be examining the functions of what has been our other city committees in the past.”

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong questioned whether councillors would be allowed to go in-camera during GPC meetings. However, staff explained that council has the ability to go in-camera for any committee. 
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