Town councillors' reactions to amending its procedural bylaw ranged from comfort with the latitude it provides to concern over discrepancies on how it's being applied when it was discussed at last night's committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Town council's input was sought as part of the review that will result in an amendment to the current bylaw that has been in place since 2019. It will return once more before being formally presented to council for consideration.

Council heard how a presentation by a delegation of residents in the spring made it clear the procedural bylaw was creating confusion for residents. Delving further into the wording, the administration realized it was indeed creating challenges for councillors and the administration.

"Finalizing the revisions to the bylaw with council's input and ensuring processes that have evolved through the implementation of committee-of-the whole are included, and removal of processes that no longer fit our organization is essential," explained Jaylene Knight, town director of legislative and administrative services. 

"Creating a clear concise bylaw that is not too prescriptive in nature but makes clear to residents the process of how council makes these important policy decisions is the end-goal with this amendment."

Besides providing concise, simplified language and steps to make it easier to follow, so far the review aims to address the committee-of-the-whole meeting process. It would outline a process to direct motions to bring back items to council, reinforce the active participation of the mayor and the deputy mayor at committee-of-the-whole meetings, and clarify the notice of motion process to ensure consistent application.

Knight said a procedural bylaw at the municipal level is by design not as rigid and precise as those at the provincial and federal level, and Robert's Rules of Order are only used as a fallback in extremely tense situations. It's intended to be custom-designed to suit the needs of individual municipalities, something that is encouraged by the provincial government.

Councillor Susam Flowers liked the latitude it provides council.

"I like the idea of being nimble so we can adopt new things because if we're so prescriptive that it prevents us from doing things we want to do we can miss opportunities," said Flowers.

Councillor Marni Fedeyko found it interesting that the presentation came a week after her notice of motion was forced onto the floor, something she had not requested.

READ MORE: Complaint lodged over handling of notice of motion

"It becomes somewhat embarrassing when we get called out too many times in the public at large that we're not following it. This is certainly not a reflection of you at all, I think it's a reflection of this council, and so we need to make sure that we are following the procedural bylaw that we put in place and if we're not, then I would suggest every single one of us sitting around this table call it out, because it's not appropriate if you choose to say nothing."

Councillor Tara McFadden says it's timely to bring it forward, and believes council has become a little lost in its procedure. She outlined some of the procedure bylaws that have been in place during her five terms on council but indicated whatever procedure is put in place, council needs to become well-versed in the rules and stick to them.

"When we do land on them, I think we really do need a refresher on some of the tools, because things can be more relaxed when everything's going well, but when you're reaching a point of some tension, you do need to be able to lean on those guidelines."

In particular, she wants to make sure the role of the chair is closely examined to ensure there is a balance of power.

"There is a lot of power in being able to chair the meeting and debate. There needs to be a little bit of a balance in that from my perspective."

The challenge of setting the procedure for the mayor is his dual role of serving in the chair while also representing constituents.

"The MGA (Municipal Government Act) speaks to both of those very clearly," pointed out Knight, "so we have to ensure anything we put within the procedural bylaw does not contravene the direction within the MGA which is our guiding document."

While serving on a council elsewhere, Reed said it was cumbersome to have the mayor step back from the chair to enter a debate.

Supportive of the review, Mayor Jeff Genung said he would like the procedure bylaw to allow for streamlining meetings where appropriate.

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