Council doesn’t seem to want to record how they vote at committee level; not their smartest decision this year.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  February 5, 2013   In a review of the Procedural bylaw, a document that sets out how members of city council are to behave, a Staff report revealed that council members don’t want to have how they vote on matters at the committee level recorded.

In Burlington everything that gets approved by city council first goes to as Standing Committee.  At that level the debate is often quite vigorous and citizens can delegate and speak for up to ten minutes.  Delegating is a simple matter.  

Delegations are heard and council members can and often do ask questions.  Some citizens come to meetings very well prepared and they get into a healthy question and answer session with council members.

When the delegations are completed Council members will ask questions of staff.

This significant seven, the ones that determine what you are going to get in the way of services and how much you will be taxed don’t want to take the time to allow for recorded votes at the council committee level. But you’re going to give them a pay raise this year.

After that council members are free to make comments.  At any point in this process any member of council can move the report, which means they get to vote on what they want to do with the document.

The document that is being moved usually has a recommendation attached to it.  Council members can make amendments, they can amend each other’s amendment (which gets funny at times because they get lost in their own paper work) and eventually they vote on what they want to do as a committee.

And that for media is where the problem crops up – these votes at the committee level are not formally recorded.  Those of us at the media table often can’t tell who voted for or against a report.  Each council member has their own unique way of indicating to the chair that they are for or against something.

That’s not what the democracy we are teaching in high schools is about – and we are teaching high school students what democracy is about aren’t we?

Here is the way this was explained in the Staff Report:

“With respect to recorded voting at standing committee meetings, members of Council

on the review team expressed differing viewpoints. Acknowledging that

recommendations from committee are intended to be a preliminary position on a matter,

it was felt that recording a member’s vote at that stage of deliberation could inhibit a

member from changing his or her position later at Council should new information

become available. It was also noted that recorded voting would slow the transaction of

business at committee meetings. As the review team did not have consensus on the

matter, a recommendation on recorded voting is not included within this report and

would require direction from Council. Nonetheless, the sentiment of the review team

was that if recorded votes were to be permitted at Committee, these would be restricted

to the main motions (and main motions as amended) but would not be applied to

amendments themselves or any secondary motions tabled.                        

That has to be some of the limpest explanation you are likely to read about this Council.

Recording a vote at committee level could inhibit a member from changing their position at Council: it certainly didn’t stop the Mayor from changing his position on the Lakeshore bike issue.

There is nothing wrong with changing ones vote.  New information becomes available or there is a flood of pressure – remember these men and woman are politicians and they have to be re-elected if they are to keep their jobs.

The report got even sillier when it said recorded votes would slow the transaction of business – that’s a hoot.  The report did suggest members of council could be more obvious in how they vote – and in the last few days they have been putting their hands up a little higher.

When the matter came up for discussion at the committee level the only member who spoke to the report was Ward 2 Councillor Meed Ward who regretted that the report did not call for recorded votes.  No one else said a word; something to keep in mind next election.  We’ll remind you.

The upshot of it all was:

Without a consensus from Councillors polled, the procedural by-law review committee has not proposed a revision to the procedural by-law at this time on the use of recorded votes at standing committee.

Council did spend a lot of time on a public opinion survey that told us, again, how wonderful we are.  We paid $10,000 for the report.

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4 comments to Council doesn’t seem to want to record how they vote at committee level; not their smartest decision this year.

  • Harry Mc Mahon

    The only member of council who has requested a “formal” vote at committee meetings was Meed Ward. This will be remembered at election time.

  • Walter Mulkewich

    An answer is computerized technology where Committee members vote by pressing a button and the results are shown on a screen.

    • David Auger

      Walter has it right. And the City is already using some of the technology needed to automate the recording and display of votes.

      What seems to be lacking is the political will.

      And that’s not surprising – why would a politician support an effort which could give critics (and future election opponents) a clear look at how they’re voting on key issues. That takes bravery, and a willingness to be seen to change ones mind on occasion.

      I raised this issue with the City Clerk before the last election and she seemed to have little interest in discussing it. Several candidates paid lip service to the idea but, post-election, the idea was forgotten, it seems.

      I raised the matter again with our new City Manager. He was London’s City Manager when they adopted the same technology we have to enable recorded votes. I got the sense from him that neither technology nor time delays are the issue. raised this issue in a community survey just before the last election. An overwhelming majority of respondents were in favor of recorded votes.

      So, what are we waiting for, Burlington?

  • Bill C.

    Pathetic. I will watch all the videos and hold them accountable!