LTE: Council attendance not new, just different collection of information

Cornwall city councillor Justin Towndale. (Newswatch Group/File)

I’d like to take a moment to reply to Phillip Blancher’s recent opinion piece from Cornwall Newswatch. I’d like to thank Mr. Blancher for his feedback. We as Councillors rely heavily on feedback from the community. However, not surprisingly, I disagree with his opinion. And, I’d like to address some of the points that he raises.

Mr. Blancher makes a comment that: “Councillors will take attendance similar to a child in Grade Three”. At the July 13th meeting of council, Councillor Claude McIntosh made a similar comment about the last time he had attendance was in grade eight. While these two analogies are amusing, they are both off the mark. Both of these comments make it seem as though taking attendance is a new idea, and that it is an infantile practice.

Attendance at Council is taken at every meeting by the City Clerk right after the moment of reflection, and the National Anthem. We are already in the practice of taking attendance, and have been for decades. This is not something new that I am introducing. My motion was designed to make it easier to find out if any given Councillor has a missed a meeting.

Yes, sometimes the media reports attendance, but it does not do so for every meeting. Even then, come election time, you would have to shift through years of articles to find out if someone missed a meeting. Councillor McIntosh admitted that during the recent election campaign, residents had asked him for help in finding out the attendance of Councillors. I myself have been asked numerous times about the attendance of my fellow Councillors, and we’re only seven months into our mandate.

On that note, the public minutes of every Council meeting contain our attendance. This is a requirement of our already existing procedural by-laws. However, once again, you would have to shift through pages of agendas to get the information that you would be looking for.

My motion will collect this information in an easier to find format, in easily accessible locations. In terms of cost, it’s a miniscule cost to perform this action. The City already runs a website, so the infrastructure is there, and it is already costed. Collecting the data back to December 1, 2014 will take some time, but not much. Going forward, to update the information after every Council meeting will take very little time every two weeks. We are not hiring anyone new to handle this information. This is hardly a measurable expense.

Attendance is an important part of being a Councillor. Residents should know if we are attending meetings or not, as it is a large part of what we are elected and paid to do. It is an important part of any job. In South Stormont, Councillors are paid based on the meetings they attend. At Queen’s Park, Ministers are fined $500 if they miss a Question Period without a good reason. If a Councillor anywhere in Ontario misses six meetings in a row, they can be removed from Council by a vote of their peers.

The majority of the new Councillors, including myself, were elected on a promise to improve accountability and transparency. This is a small step towards that. Are there larger issues to tackle? Absolutely. But this was an issue that a simple motion during the summer months could fix. For the larger issues, it will take more than that, including time. It is impossible to pass a single motion that will automatically fix all of the infrastructure in the city, or spurn economic development overnight. We are chipping away at these issues, and will continue to do so.

Justin Towndale
City of Cornwall

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