Committee system still broken, still in use

The real purpose of The Block...
“A committee,” wrote Sir Barnett Cocks, former Clerk of the UK’s House of Commons, “is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.”
How very appropriate those words strike us as we gaze at Collingwood’s ineffective, severely broken standing committee system. The brainchild of the interim CAO, and the very model of his business style, it has been fervently embraced by The Block. Yet to outsiders, the committee system has been a bureaucratic quagmire of redundancy and ineptness since its inception.

It was a mistake to continue it after the first meeting, when most observers realized it didn’t work. But despite its flaws – evident to everyone but The Block – the committee system is still in use, stumbling along two years later like some cranky steampunk wagon with mismatched wheels.

Look, for example, at the “Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee” (SISC) agenda for January 23. Notice all of the motions for action are in reality just procrastination:

RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…
RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…
RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…
RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…

Every single report, every single presentation, every public delegation has to return to the full meeting of council to repeat and reiterate everything it said to the SISC. And yet EVERY MEMBER of council sits on the SISC but are powerless to act. So they have to repeat it to THEMSELVES!

Yes, that’s right: they have to recommend that they pass the report on to THEMSELVES to deal with at a different meeting! A perfect model of bureaucratic confusion evidently derived from Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.
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Collingwood council’s committee system is broken

Last term, council approved a recommendation from the CAO to dump its traditional structure of council and public committees, to an internal system of standing committees filled only with politicians. The structure is used in several other – mostly larger – communities. It sounded intriguing, bold and exciting, so council said yes, let’s try it. Let’s be innovative.

But, despite recommendations to the contrary, it wasn’t implemented until this new council took office. And that implementation isn’t working.

In fact, it’s created a worse-than-ever disconnect between politicians the the public.

Instead of engaging the public more, instead of creating more openness and transparency, it is doing the opposite: alienating us. Members of the public who used to contribute to the process through boards and committees are now shut out.

It needs to be fixed or scrapped and a more open system restored.

Three standing committees – Development & Operations, Community Services, and Corporate Services – meet once a month, on different days (Monday, Wednesday and Monday, respectively). Each has only three council members on it.

To their credit, sometimes non-member councillors also attend these meetings in the audience, but not all. Nor do all senior staff attend every committee meeting. But isn’t that redundant?

There is also a Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee, comprised of all of council, which has met only once so far (on a Thursday), to discuss budget matters. Plus there are separate budget meetings.

Council itself – all nine members – only meets twice a month. Recommendations and reports from those standing committees are then brought forward and often re-discussed. This is neither efficient nor good governance.

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