Salt Spring’s new Local Community Commission (LCC) met for the first time, making clear it intended to move quickly and — within the limits of legislative procedure — not bind itself to convention.
After what seemed a tacit agreement to use first names among the new commissioners, and with a full complement of local and regional Capital Regional District (CRD) staff on hand — including district CAO Ted Robbins and corporate services general manager Kristen Morley — commissioners Gayle Baker, Ben Corno, Earl Rook and Brian Webster were sworn in, with a round of applause from the dozen or so members of the public present.
Those among them hoping to gauge the tenor of Salt Spring’s newest governing body didn’t have long to wait.
Rook was swiftly nominated and acclaimed as chair, and CRD director Holman, in his role as fifth commissioner, as vice chair. The LCC decided the two will receive staff briefings and draft agendas together “at least to start with,” said Rook, as new commissioners become accustomed to the job.
That administrative motion was just one of several resolutions the new commission passed quickly and unanimously Tuesday, June 20, including an expression of gratitude to the community members who worked toward — and voted in favour of — the establishment of the LCC, with nods to past members of the various advisory commissions, senior manager Karla Campbell, Holman (in his role as CRD director), Robbins and Morley.
Next came a comprehensive statement of commitment to accessibility, transparency and accountability — including a promise to minimize the use of closed meetings and to hold meetings in ways easier for more community members to attend. That would necessarily include exploring options for evening meetings, according to commissioners, and staff were asked for a report on how best to accomplish this.
“There was nothing I heard more, or more intensely, from the community during the campaign than the importance of having open and accessible meetings,” said Webster. “We need to work through whatever the implications, complications and challenges are to achieve that.”
In that vein, the new LCC proposed a work-around for a procedure bylaw requiring delegations being allowed to speak only about items already on the published agenda, hatching a plan to have a broadly phrased item called “discussion of community issues and priorities” included at every meeting.
“I would rather err on the side of a few times saying ‘geez, three more minutes on this?’ rather than closing the door and having the community feel like ‘oh, there isn’t a place for us,’” said Webster. “This is the only body under the CRD where directly elected members do not have other meetings where this kind of input can happen.”
Morley said while she appreciated the theme of being transparent — and giving the opportunity for a robust exchange of ideas — she worried there might be pitfalls.
“I think the commission has to be a little bit careful not to stray into just discussing things ad hoc,” said Morley, “because that’s where you get into that issue of not having [enough] notice to the community.”
“We want to get this commission started on the right footing,” said Robinson, adding that he agreed with the general intent. “[But] I think it would be difficult to be in conflict with the board procedures right out of the gate.”
Ultimately the LCC asked staff to report back on how to “hold the door open,” as Corno put it, for more public participation during meetings. In the meantime, the LCC will be able to waive some procedure requirements for delegations on a case-by-case basis with unanimous agreement — which seems to be the norm for the new governing body, where every vote has so far been 5-0.
“You may have noticed a sense like we’re in a big hurry here,” said Webster. “And we do feel that way. But on the other hand we want this to work.”
Commissioners decided to extend an invitation to past members of the dissolved commissions whose business now comes under the LCC’s purview. The hope, according to commissioners, is not only to set priorities going forward but also to maintain momentum — and avoid the loss of knowledge and “lessons learned,” according to commissioners, who were hoping for both attendance and written correspondence.
“I’m definitely in support of requesting they forward documentation to us in advance [of the next meeting],” said Corno, adding that he was aware at least one of those former groups was “moments away” from finalizing such a report for the new LCC.
But while the possibility of several dozen former commission members flooding a regular meeting certainly raised a few eyebrows among staff, a unanimous motion to add a special meeting to the schedule specifically for them — on July 11, one week before the next meeting scheduled for July 18 — seemed of little comfort.
“It’s a real challenge,” said Campbell. “We have multiple projects we’re managing right now with a limited staff capacity. The challenge that you guys will have in working with us is to not be monopolizing that capacity, because we have a higher level of priority to water and sewer, [things] that affect people’s daily lives. As much as we’d like to serve you, [and] we are here to get your business done, we do have a lot on our plate right now.”
“The bylaw says clearly that the meeting times and dates are set by the commission,” said Webster. “It’s very difficult for us to have staff essentially saying we can’t make [additional meetings] work.”
Robbins said the biggest issue would be keeping enough time for staff to be able to report back on things the LCC brings to them.
“These are more comprehensive reports, typically that rely on not only the on-island team, but potentially advice from folks at corporate services, finance, whatever the case may be,” said Robbins. “We’ve got to manage expectations here. It’s going to be difficult for staff to turn around reports even on a four-week cycle — particularly if there’s [unanticipated] business being generated through a meeting.”
To help alleviate staff strain, commissioners opted to structure the July 11 meeting strictly for the purpose of feedback — no reports from staff would be needed before the July 18 regular meeting.
“It’s just focused on the dissolved commissions, bringing them in, getting their feedback,” said Baker. “Not a lot of pre-meeting prep, but having a conversation we really need to have before we make decisions.”
The LCC also took first steps toward reinitiating the Harbourwalk Steering Committee by appointing Webster to represent the LCC there. They also directed staff to report on budgeting for at least some LCC members to attend the Union of BC Municipalities conference in Vancouver this September.