Values that guide council members and some staff will be the base on which a new Procedural Bylaw will be written

By Pepper Parr

March 7th, 2023



Council met in a day long workshop last week to take a hard, close look at the Procedural Bylaw – the document that sets out the rules on how members of Council work with each other and how the public relates to Council when they meet.

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Burlington has had a bumpy ride getting a Procedural Bylaw in place. A number of years ago the province mandated that a municipality had to have a Procedural Bylaw in place and if they didn’t put one in place the province would do it for them.

James Ridge, the City Manager at the time, presented the provincial model to Council and that was adopted.

The city has come a long way since then. Some of the suggestions that were discussed in the day long workshop during which council members went through a process that was intended to give the City Clerk the information he needed to come back to council with a revised procedural bylaw are troubling. At this point the City Clerk is working with Council to work out the kinks and will be returning to Council with a document that will be debated and made final.

City Clerk Kevin Arjoon said he gets excited when he talks about Procedural Bylaws.

City Clerk Kevin Arjoon told members of Council “We are seeking drafting instructions, which means we will be listening, taking notes and will endeavour to return with a draft bylaw.

“The Procedural Bylaw is at its core a set of rules and values that help to structure how a conversation amongst members of council occurs. “That’s it”, said Arjoon. “It really boils down to: how do you want to have conversations with one another on local matters that affect your communities.

Workshop facilitator Suzanne Gibson described Mayor Meed Ward as “illustrious”.

Suzanne Gibson, the facilitator brought in by the Clerk to keep the meeting moving along, which she did rather well, told the workshop “I’m going to ask each of you to tell me what’s really important to you around establishing good process just as an opening, and then we will have a conversation about what values guiding principles, what criteria are important to you to shape this discussion. So we’re kind of grounding ourselves and what matters: is it a democratic process. Is it about inclusion, we want to look at all of those values and make sure that we’re being guided by what matters most to us as a group.

The only glitch, and it was a whopper, was when Gibson referred to Marianne Meed Ward as “our illustrious Mayor” on more than two occasions.

Gibson has helped more than 200 established organizations, at three levels to reach and attain their goals.

City Manager Tim Commisso started the conversation saying he wasn’t quite ready but spoke nevertheless.

City Manager Tim Commisso

“I wasn’t quite ready. I think I was anticipating council to go first, but yeah, I mean, I’ve long loved working for Burlington. I’ve lived here and I have a passion, I think for the fact that this council, you know, makes decisions which quite frankly leave a legacy in terms of the development of the city. It’s the decisions you make that create this place that is so wonderful, and quite frankly I don’t want to sound like I’m saying but I do believe that we are in one of the top municipalities in Canada, if not North America. So that’s it.

“I love the fact that council has passion for doing whatever it has to do to support community and make this place what it is. And that’s that’s really I think, the you know, gets back to the next question about why I enjoy working with this council because you’re all of the same mind.”


Mayor Marianne Meed Ward

Mayor Meed Ward was next:
“I’m very excited about planning our city for the next seven generations. And putting in a strong foundation for the people that will come after us the families and the youth and everybody – so very excited about that.

“And what’s personally important to me, I like to all the values and the guiding principles it was really, really hard to pick one. But for today’s purposes, I love procedure bylaw, by the way. I love good governance and the reason that I do is that it does help people make good decisions. And better decisions and bad process and bad governance will actually make good people end up doing things that are really harmful to them and to the community that they’re trying to serve.

“So you know, I also think it’s really important that people understand expectations, they, if they don’t understand them at the beginning, then they can they can fail because it wasn’t clearly communicated. I don’t think that’s fair to people.

“And then also procedure can help to make sure that the rules are applied equally. And not in a way that you know, we’ll have a different set of rules for people we’d like and agree with and a different set of rules for people that we don’t.

An example of how Mayor Meed Ward has treated members of Council in the past is HERE. It runs for 14 minutes.

“So procedure. bylaw really is the great leveller for everybody that we’re all under the same rules and if we understand them clearly people I believe and especially this council will follow them and you know we will get to good decisions and the final thing that’s important to me as we go through this process, but any process, is that we treat each other kindly with respect and assume if we’re going to assume any motive the motive should be that we’re all here to serve our community and make it a better place. And I truly believe that about everybody around this horseshoe and everybody that works at the city.”

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman

Councillor Sharman took a slightly different approach saying: “The word excite is an interesting one. What I really like about being in this role is being able to make a contribution. And that’s really about it. And that means thinking about the whole community and what we can do to make the community more effective, more efficient, but more importantly more caring.

“And you know, in a municipal environment, government environment, I can say that the two things that come out for me most strongly are purpose and perspective.  I believe our purpose is to think about the values that we hold for the city well into the future. And emphasis on the future.

“I am less concerned about things that are urgent things that are bothering people in the community today as to thinking more broadly about where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. Not to suggest we should ignore what things are bothering people, but oftentimes I find that that if you don’t think about the future you can’t put those other things in perspective..

Ward 6 Councillor Angelo Bentivegna

Councillor Bentivegna was perhaps the most direct in why he ran for public office.

“I’m involved in being a councillor because I want to make a difference. I think that’s really why we’re all here; we want to make a positive difference. I think it’s very important that the community evaluates the city evaluates us in their everyday lives. And we have that opportunity to make those adjustments, make those changes so that the quality of life continues to get better in our city.

“And that’s what we’re really here for. And it’s not just, you know, what we do each day has to be fair for everyone. Regardless of what walk of life we come from, where we come from, and what financial situation that we’re in. And that’s it’s a long way to go around and say we need to make decisions that are best and fair in our community.”

Lisa Kearnsm said: “I too, along with what the mayor has said and Kevin has said, I’m a bit of a process nerd. I think that’s been evident. I was really looking forward to today as well. So that is one of the things that excites me about being in this role is that is the opportunity to represent citizens in the city in order to ensure that the process that we’re operating under is fair and reasonable. I like that word that Councilman to Bentivegna used – fair and reasonable.

Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns

“I mean the manner in which we conduct business on behalf of residents should in essence, be under a process that’s fair and reasonable to the people around this horseshoe to the staff and to the residents of the city as far as their voice being heard and that we are being transparent and accountable.

“What’s personally important to me with respect to this comes down to that: are the decisions that we make involve political motivations, and that’s fair and reasonable because that’s part of our role. The process by which we make those decisions should not be politically motivated.

“So I’m excited to make sure that whatever we come up with today is kind of separated so we have a clean and neutral process. While we make decisions on behalf of the city.”

Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan: “ Yeah, one thing that excites me, you know, having grown up in Burlington, it’s just really fun to be on council and to be making decisions and seeing things that I saw, or better understanding the city that I grew up in and saw from a totally different perspective.

“And then the other half of that is now developing building a city that I’ve known for a long time and seeing the weightiness of our decisions and the way that it can have an impact for years and decades down the road. So that’s very exciting to be able to have an influence on the future of the city. And what’s important to me ?

Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan took part in the meeting virtually

“Well, what I really like about procedure by laws and Robert’s Rules of orders is how democracy underpins the decision making process. How everything is in the end under this principle of majority rules, which I find really cool and I like how there’s tensions that are with say, cheering right chair as an enhanced decision making authority needs to be overruled by a two thirds majority.

“For example. I just find it is very very important that the majority rule be there at the at the bottom, but that we also have rules that enhanced the efficiency of what we’re doing. I think it’s really important that that efficiency be something that we are looking at which I know we are looking at today. But efficiency doesn’t mean rushing either so that’s what matters to me.”

Ward 1 Kelvin Galbraith said: “I’m very excited about being in this role. You know, I’m Burlington born bred, work, live and breathe everything Burlington. To be able to participate at a city level and give back to the community is what really excites me. I realized throughout my life how much time I spent at city rink facilities, parks, and sometimes I didn’t even know they were city run by by the city, but now that I’m on the other side.

“I really want to participate and give back and help build the future for the next seven generations as the mayor said.   I can participate and that is really exciting to me. And what’s important about this process well, you know, I I must say I didn’t know the procedure bylaw like the back of my hand; this process could have been done four years ago and might have benefited me and some of our procedures but I’m all about efficiencies.

Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith

“I think most of my colleagues will agree with that. So if we can make this process more efficient, and  I’m very supportive of that.

“Looking forward to the Deputy Mayor discussion as well. I think that’s a very unique thing that this council is doing and helps us collaborate together. So I’m really looking forward to that discussion as well.”

Kevin, Arjoon, the City Clerk summed up his view saying: “Yeah, for me working with the city. I think the one great thing is I get to work with people right. On Friday, I got to go to Frank Hayden secondary school and talk to trustee Ethan who set up a student poll for their student trustee and it was just so magical to have a conversation with someone about democratic rights and barriers to participation, stuff like that. So I think that’s the one big thing is I get to talk to people that are in the community, doing good things, and that really energizes me.

“The one thing that I like about Procedure Bylaws is when you read one and there’s minority rights,  baked in, embedded into the procedure bylaws. So the you know, the majority rules, all of that is really great, but then there’s little nuance pieces that really respect that there could be divergent opinions, and they respectfully provide rules for the divergent opinions to sort of coexist and be managed within the process. So that’s my favourite thing about a procedure by law.”

City Manager Tim Commisso followed up saying:  “Sorry, I realized I didn’t answer the second question. My apologies. The procedural bylaw for me is the most important integrating structure we have related to governance.  I like to look at alignment and integration as really two keys of a great organization. A Procedural Bylaw provides full integration, not across all aspects of governance, but the ones that really, I think, allow us to work together. The relationship that council and staff have in this municipality, I think is really the strength of the organization.”

And so there you have it – the politicians were not in election mode – there were doing their best to tell Suzanne Gibson, the Workshop facilitator why they liked the job.

Her job was to help them create a Procedural Bylaw that would help them to deliver on why they were members of City Council.

You can now think about what they said and decide if they are up to doing the job.  The public now needs to wait until the draft of the Bylaw is presented to Council.

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7 comments to Values that guide council members and some staff will be the base on which a new Procedural Bylaw will be written

  • Lynn Crosby

    Wow. This must be one of the most laugh-inducing and also tear-inducing things I’ve read from our council yet, and that’s saying something. I don’t know where to begin so I’m really grateful that Reuben Goldberg expressed it so well that I don’t have to try.

    I’ll just say that when one continually feels the need to overly-explain and defend her or himself against particular criticisms, ad nauseum, it is telling, methinks. And that some members of council really don’t grasp that we the public see right through them. This isn’t, by the way, what we mean when we say we want transparency.

  • Reuben Goldberg

    It was difficult for me to read these statements and believe that they were either sincere or unrehearsed. Really, the difference between these expressed values and those actually practiced by Burlington Council is quite stark, in my opinion. Perhaps the statement that rings most true is that of the Ward 3 Councillor – worried about “efficiencies” and marveling about how “cool” it is to exercise power. Honestly, are these not the teenage ramblings of one who is totally unsuited to the role he plays? And the Mayor talking about respect and giving each other credit for wanting to benefit others; “we treat each other kindly with respect and assume if we’re going to assume any motive the motive should be that we’re all here to serve our community and make it a better place” How does anyone square this with her treatment of Councillor Stolte – both in the public flogging that she inappropriately chaired (hey City Manager, where were you with this?) and in the virtual weaponized ‘agenda management’ episode while she was supposedly celebrating her daughter’s graduation from Western. And these were preceded by the rumoured earlier mistreatment of Councillor Kearns (‘you can only contact me between the hours of … ‘etc.). Indeed, the only high-performance woman that the Mayor can tolerate is … the Mayor. Why all the muss and fuss folks? Can’t the seven of you get along? Do you need a set of structured policies to guide your interaction? There are two major disappointments in this; Kevin Arjoon, the City Clerk, who just wants everyone to get so, so excited about how exciting this all is (in a better world he may have been a gameshow host) and Tim Commisso, City Manager, who should really know better but consistently doesn’t. Someone needs to build these folks a set of ‘gee whizz, tilting wheel, rolling ball, balance beam, trampoline launching procedures that through all the wonderful twists, turns and precipitous falls gets them back to square one – understanding and respecting their job and the people whom they serve.

  • It is easy to make speeches that reflect democratic principles and the best interests of all the community especially as Lisa Kearns previously stated with AI available to knock out such speeches., The test is will the new Procedure Bylaw reflect these speeches or continue to contain bylaws that ignore the need for transparency and the community right to delegate regardless of who you are and what your position is with regard to Council decisions and councillor behavior.

  • Jim Thomson

    It is really so sad that the Procedure Bylaw they were debating didn’t contain the latest revisions as called for in Bylaw 86-2022.
    Maybe they would realize that the scheduled meetings on Thursday afternoons aren’t Regular Meetings of Council. Those are to be scheduled on Tuesdays at 9:30.
    If the Mayor really loved procedures she wouldn’t call for “democratic votes” without a motion to vote on. If the Council Clerk knew the rules he would object and tell her she needed to ask for a motion.. (May 17 at around 3:18 on the video)

    As for Kelvin Galbraith he shouldn’t grant extra time to a delegation without getting a majority vote from council. (May 5 at 1:56 on video) Again the Committee Clerk didn’t object to this violation of procedure.

    • Thanks Jim for these clear examples of what is really happening in terms of the Procedure Bylaw and Council meetings rather than the position of Council and Clerk and maybe a robot.

  • Lisa Cooper

    Can someone explain to me, Why Councillor Nisan seems to attend most if all of these important meetings virtually? It seems every other Councillor can now make it to downtown City Hall. Is Ward 3 and the rest of Burlington paying for him to be a stay at home dad? asking for a friend.

    Editor: Would you settle your election advertising invoice please

    • Lynn Crosby

      You ask a good question Lisa which many of us ask regularly. It’s become a running joke now except that it isn’t funny. He makes it out for photo ops, fun conferences in Ottawa, schmoozing with voters during election campaign, and the red carpet inauguration, but day to day working for us? Showing up to hear a constituent delegate on a matter in his own ward? Nah.