The first is CAO Richard Butts’ determination to reduce the number of “politically sensitive” items coming to regional council. As The Coast reported in February 2012, Butts secretly created an “agenda forecasting” process, in which staff vets all issues, as far as a year in advance, and Butts himself must approve what ultimately goes to council. This has reduced the number of staff reports coming to council to a trickle.
The second process involves council’s decision to more heavily rely on committees. There is now a division of labour. At the top is regional council, which is comprised of all elected councillors in HRM. Below are three community councils, comprised of councillors representing each of three geographic areas. There are also six standing committees.
The problem with relying heavily on the community councils and standing committees, say councillors opposed to that devolution of power, is that important decisions are being made without full knowledge or approval of all councillors. Moreover, it is nearly impossible for the public to track all issues, as community council and standing committee meetings are not televised, and the press can’t cover them all.
On the plus side, the public can address councillors directly at the lower committees, which it can’t do at regional council. But councillor Tim Outhit says limiting the number of regional council meetings is “ass backwards.”
“We’re treating the symptom, rather than the problem,” Outhit tells The Coast. “Is the problem coming once a week to regional council, or too many committee meetings, boards or internal meetings?
“If we’re looking to fill agendas, which I can’t imagine we need to do, but let’s do a question period. Let’s have people present to us, so that not only do all of us hear it, but the 30- or 40,000 watching on TV hear it as well.”