COMMENTARY: Leadership starts with control of council meetings

In this screen grab from a City of North Bay council meeting in February 2020, a clock starts counting down the 10 minute time limit for delegations. Cornwall has a similar time limit but presentations have recently got out of control -- the last meeting had two presentations last almost two hours. (City of North Bay/YouTube via Newswatch Group)

In 2018, Mayor Bernadette Clement said in her inaugural address that it was “not a bedtime story, and I don’t want to put you to sleep.” But if you have tuned into any council meeting recently, the presentations alone would do that.

Cornwall’s bylaw that governs the proceedings of council meetings, states that presentations or delegations are 10 minutes maximum and then 5 minutes for questions from council.

On Monday last week, a presentation on the Recreation Master Plan droned on for 24 minutes and then the “questions” from council lasted another 45 minutes for a total of one hour and nine minutes. Then, there was the Senior Friendly Community Committee Update that lasted 18 minutes followed by 18 minutes of inquiries of councillors.

I say “questions” in quotations, because the mayor invariably says “I’ll prepare a speakers list,” no doubt fuelling the tendencies for councillors to pontificate before the TV cameras instead of legitimately inquiring on behalf of those who elected them.

Monday night was almost two hours of a council meeting before the people you elected to conduct the business of the city actually conducted the business of the city. Councillors are no doubt tired at a point when the serious decisions have to be made. The meeting went past 11 p.m. It started at 7 p.m.

Coun. Glen Grant – usually a stickler about procedure and ready to jump on any point of order – is strangely silent as the minutes click by, the time frame clearly contravening the municipality’s own rules.

Flashback to Clement’s 2018 address: “I know that they (councillors) want to do the very best and I can on their behalf tell you that we expect you to hold us to a high standard.”

That high standard includes good leadership and good leadership includes running a tight ship from the top when it comes to meetings.

For a higher standard, you don’t have to look any further than the City of North Bay and Mayor Al McDonald’s tight ship. The city has a red digital countdown clock on the wall of the council chambers. Time starts when the presentation begins. It gets to zero, you’re done. Not political favoritism. Time is time.

As municipal officials want more youth and especially young women engaged in municipal politics, having long, drawn out a procedurally sloppy council meetings won’t attract our next generation of politicos.

I’m Bill Kingston.