Who’s running the show?
Rossland councillors have relinquished significant responsibilities and authority to staff. The Procedure Bylaw establishes the rules to be followed by council when conducting their business. Council recently approved changes to the Procedure Bylaw and rescinded policies, the net effect of which is to reduce their ability to govern the operations of the City.
These changes were made in spite of attempts by Councillor Kathy Moore to correct some of the many flaws in the bylaw and retain the policies.
As Moore tried to raise a legitimate concern about the draft bylaw, Mayor Granstrom, with typical bluster and just a touch of hyperbole, brushed her off stating, “Mr. Kumar has written procedure bylaws for a hundred years.”
Unfortunately, many of Mr. Kumar’s explanations about the bylaw were laughable. For example, he explained that if only four members of council were present at a meeting, a quorum would be two members. Someone paid $150,000 per year and who claims to have years of experience should know the Community Charter specifies that a quorum is a majority of all members of council. For Rossland that is four members.
Unfortunately, other members of council, through ignorance of legislation and parliamentary procedures or unwillingness to intercede, stayed silent. Councillors Blomme and Fisher were absent.
A major change to the bylaw was the removal of the ability of councillors to introduce notices of motion. A notice of motion alerts council and staff that an issue will be raised at the next meeting. Notices of motion are part of standard parliamentary protocols and were added to Rossland’s procedure bylaw by Mr. Kumar’s predecessor, Ron Campbell. Mr. Campbell introduced them because prior to their introduction any councillor could simply request the Corporate Officer to add an item to the agenda.
Mr. Kumar claimed the inclusion of notices of motion on the agenda was a “typo”. Nonsense!
With this change, a councillor now has to have the approval of the mayor (who may not give it if he’s opposed to the idea) or the written consent of two members of council to introduce a notice of motion. This effectively eliminates the ability of any member to have an issue that may be controversial discussed at a council meeting.
When Councillor Moore pointed out that some clauses in the bylaw were not sufficiently explicit, Mayor Granstrom declared that such procedures would be at the Chair’s discretion. For example, the bylaw contains no limits on how long delegations make speak. The mayor says he’ll decide how long they could speak.
However, Mayor Granstrom fails to understand that the bylaw applies to everyone, including him. He has no authority to make up rules on the fly; and he can’t pick and choose which rules to follow. He has to realize he hasn’t been anointed primo autocrat. Unfortunately, he succeeds when the rest of council is too timid to challenge his abuse of power.
Policies are general directives adopted by council based on social, political and economic values. They provide guidance to staff, and to council itself, about how to deal with a particular issue. Policies are not laws, are not inflexible, are open to change and–most importantly–they speak to everyone. Until they are changed, policies provide significant certainty to citizens that concerns and issues will be treated equitably and without favouritism. Everyone knows what the rules are.
Over the years, councils established a large number of policies dealing with a wide range of issues. Since the arrival of CAO Victor Kumar, however, many of these policies have been rescinded by council.
There is no doubt some needed to be rescinded because they applied to situations which no longer exist or have been superseded d by other policies or bylaws. However, the recently-rescinded policies deal with on-going significant issues, such as highway encroachments, use of reserve lands, and infrastructure easements. Staff recommended they be rescinded, suggesting they are dealt with by provincial legislation. In most cases, the legislation simply says the municipality has the authority to deal with an issue. A policy establishes how that issue should be dealt with. The legislation deals with generalities, a policy deals with specifics.
In the absence of a policy, citizens don’t know how an issue will be treated and staff is free to decide on their own how to deal with the issue. A decision of staff is almost always open to an appeal to council. With no policy in place, any decision by council about an appeal will primarily be based on a recommendation from staff. Of course, staff is unlikely to recommend their decision be over-turned.
Such an approach leaves the situation open to potential abuse in that similar situations may not be treated in a similar fashion. It also means that council has relinquished some of their authority to govern. Any councillor wishing to suggest a new policy will be thwarted by the restrictions on adding agenda items.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that council’s employee, CAO Victor Kumar, with the willing assistance of Mayor Granstrom, is running the show–not the councillors who were elected to do so.
Laurie Charlton is a retired chemist who was a Rossland city councillor for 17 years between 1975 and 2011.