You have more time to pore over New Westminster city council agendas than in the past – for the most part.
Since the last meeting in November, city staff have been sending out agendas for Monday council meetings on the Wednesday before the meeting. Previously, the agendas had been posted on Friday afternoons.
Earlier distribution of council agendas was part of a motion considered by council in November related to the idea of supporting better governance, decision-making and public engagement at city hall. The motion, put forward by councillors Daniel Fontaine and Paul Minhas, requested that the city clerk make the agenda and supporting documents available to council members no less than five business days prior to the meeting.
“It really is critical for us, I think, as a board of governors and as elected officials to get the information as quickly as we can, in order for us to be able to ask questions of staff,” Fontaine said.
At the Nov. 28 meeting, council also directed staff to bring forward changes to the procedure bylaw to reflect the new council package distribution.
Coun. Ruby Campbell said she supported the spirit of the motion, as she believes it’s a good thing for council to have more time to review the information, but expressed concern that the earlier distribution timelines could have unintended consequences.
“It might end up causing us to have more on-table reports on the day of council, which to me, in the end, is more difficult than having to read them on a Friday,” she said.
Campbell also voiced concerned about the impacts it could have on staff who are involved in writing and submitting the reports.
Mayor Patrick Johnstone shared concerns that the timeline would make it challenging for staff to complete all of their reports by the earlier deadline.
“We're going to have to recognize we are going to have to create more flexibility and are accepting of late motions, late reports coming to council,” he said. “I am not opposed to the idea of asking us to have a longer lead time, but I do recognize that this is going to result probably in us having to give more flexibility for those reports that just can't make that deadline because of pressing issues.”
Campbell and Johnstone voted against the motion, but other council members supported it, so it passed.
Improving access to council agendas
Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she’s raised this issue in the past, as she believes it’s beneficial for community members to have more time to read council agendas before the meetings.
“In terms of accessibility for people, both those who may have learning disabilities or challenges reading, our packages can be really, really long,” she said. “And if you work shiftwork, for example, on weekends, it would be very, very difficult to be able to read the packages in time.”
While she hears the points made by her council colleagues, Nakagawa said she hopes the city is able to find ways to mitigate those concerns.
“I do very much support moving this forward in terms of accessibility, in terms of meeting the needs of future councillors who may have different life circumstances than ours,” she added.
Nakagawa said the community will benefit by having earlier access to council agendas.
“I don't think people are on Friday afternoons necessarily waiting around for council packages to figure out if they want to sign up for delegation,” she said.
Coun. Tasha Henderson believes it’s always a good idea to give people more time to engage with the city and to make engagement more accessible.
“If we want more diverse people with different lived experiences and life circumstances to engage, either as participants in our processes or to run for elected office, we have to continue making our procedures more accessible and inclusive,” she said. “As a parent of a young family, my kiddo was sick on Friday night and I had cleared all the weekend to read council packages – and then I had a sick kid. So things come up.”
Fontaine said he put forward the motion with the understanding that late distribution of reports is still possible.
“Even though you've got the five days, staff still always have the opportunity to bring a late distribution; it's just best practice not to do it unless it's urgent,” he said.
The City of New Westminster posted the agendas for the Jan. 30 council meetings on Wednesday, Jan. 25. Reports associated with the public hearing and evening council meeting were included in the agenda, but reports related to the morning’s workshop about the 2023 budget were not available and were going to be circulated at a later time.