Abbotsford’s new city council has introduced changes to meetings, both for the council and city committees, aimed at streamlining the process and increasing discussion.
Council approved plans to reduce the number of advisory committees – often composed of councillors, city staff and community representatives – from 20 to eight.
Mayor Henry Braun said the new committees will still cover the same mandates as the previous ones, but the new structure is more efficient, freeing up the time of staff and council to do other work.
He said in some cases the new committees eliminate overlaps. The city previously had separate committees to cover agriculture, Matsqui diking and the Sumas diking commission, which are now combined into one.
“The notion of the two diking commissions is pre-amalgamation. This is 19 years later, I think we need to wrap some of this up and finish those amalgamations that haven’t taken place yet.”
The new committees cover agriculture, diking, drainage and irrigation; development; homelessness; intergovernmental affairs; shared services; parks, recreation and culture; public safety; and transportation.
At the council meeting on Monday, city manager George Murray said environmental sustainability and creating a vibrant economy will be built into all council policies, and will therefore be an “overarching belief of council throughout all committees.”
The 2015 schedule for council will also include a new public meeting. Council meets every second Monday, but now on the alternate weeks council will meet for a “shirt-sleeves session.”
Braun said the meetings will be open to the public and will be more informal, providing an opportunity for a more robust discussion of issues before they come to council.
He said in the past, councillors often wouldn’t know the thoughts and opinions of their colleagues until the issue was at the table.
Now they will have that same discussion in open session, and can hear from one another so when the issue comes forward they have a better understanding, he said.
Braun said that doesn’t mean decisions will already be made by the time they come to council. At regular meetings, he will encourage councillors to ask questions for their benefit and the publics, as well as express their opinions.
He said when there is no discussion at council “the public wonders whether we’ve made the decision behind closed doors – which isn’t true.”