Council Preview

By John Swartz

Orillia council’s two-meeting-a-month schedule adopted this year doesn’t quite work when there are five Monday’s in a month. In the past, barring holiday Monday’s upsetting the order, council would meet every week regardless of how many Mondays in a month.

With an open slot for a formal meeting council is instead meeting in the board room of the Gill Street fire station Monday afternoon for a special meeting of council, specifically on these topics; team building, strategic plan, a new process for enquiry motions, Rotary Place improvements, and a staff update regarding where ongoing projects are sitting.

The schedule begins with a closed session at 11 a.m. and the subject is stated to be for an educational or training matter. Most people who follow municipal government understand matters relating to legal and staff issues, buying or selling land, or an outside source is providing privileged information to council (e.g. trade secrets) can be reasons to meet behind closed doors and might know training is also on the list.

The Municipal Act states:

A meeting of a council or local board or of a committee of either of them may be closed to the public if the following conditions are both satisfied:

1.  The meeting is held for the purpose of educating or training the members.

2.  At the meeting, no member discusses or otherwise deals with any matter in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making of the council, local board or committee. 

There is still a good deal of business council will conduct in public starting at 1 p.m. The first item on the agenda is a team building exercise for which there is no documentation provided in the agenda.

Following that several reports are listed. The first is from staff asking for direction about how to proceed with some of the objectives council has set informally.  The notes say some people (not specified as whether staff or councillors) want to see a formal plan, which may involve community consultation. The primary option to be voted on asks to give staff permission to create a request for proposal in order to hire a consultant to create a strategic corporate plan – with a budget of $80,000.

The consultant would stickhandle a public survey and focus groups will be held among council, senior staff and other City employees. Then an action plan will be created, followed by more community input. The timeline proposed for all that will take until January 2024 for a formal plan to be presented to council.

Among the areas council has informally asked to be priorities are:

Doctor Recruitment

Affordable Housing

Improving Roads and Infrastructure

Dealing with Homelessness, the Opioid Crisis and Mental Health.

Community Policing

Taking some action regarding Truth and Reconciliation

Business Retention and Arts and Culture

Council also asked staff to provide information regarding revenue losses and alternative sources of income (Bill 23 figures in here), finding ways to improve service delivery, re-jig the budget process to better flag allocations on line items according to whether they – leave service at current levels, improve service, or are new services proposed. Council also wants to know how to better use the data the City collects, if the City’s investments can be better deployed (e.g.. former Orillia Power Distribution money), if the organization structure needs changing to compliment council priorities and to make staff progress reports either quarterly or semi-annually.

The next item is a rethink about how council handles enquiry motions. These motions are items brought by individual councillors and usually reflect taking advantage of new opportunities or seek to solve new problems.

Staff analyzed motions dating back to 2015. There were 145 motions passed during the time to the year ending in 2022. The most frequent motions made were not surprisingly about traffic stops and parking.

How enquiry Motions tend to resolve now

Staff say the amount of time spent preparing reports council asks for can be from 50 to 70 hours. Staff wants to implement a standardized motion submission process

Staff outlined a case when a motion was passed by council for a report. With the case cited, staff spent 12.5 hours on it, only for council to reject the idea after a report was made.

The new process proposed would have a councillor notify staff in writing first before raising it at council and have a discussion with the responsible staff member about what is wanted. Staff would respond by way of the council information package ( The CIP contains notes to council, reminders, and updates not for a council meeting agenda) for information purposes with estimates of what resources are need to run down the enquiry. The councillor could then pull the item from the CIP memo for discussion at a council meeting for a formal vote to proceed.

It seems the intent is to gather some information and provide some input abput feasibility before a question hits the formal process. Sometimes councils have approved motions with little information about what is really needed, how much time it will take, and what costs are estimated.

The downside is the new process, if council adopts it, may put a gate in the process of trying to get things done as matters arise.

The next report is to update council on the progress of the refrigeration system replacement at Rotary Place.

You may recall the system failed last October and the City had to come up with a temporary fix to make ice. Council approved a $425,00 budget to rent equipment.

Council also approved a $1.9 million budget to replace the system permanently. However, only one bid was received from Black & McDonald Limited to do the work and when final costing was completed the City came up $395,000 short, so staff is asking for a budget increase. Equipment has to be ordered now in order to do the work next spring and the rental system will carry the load until May 2024.

The last item on the agenda is an opportunity for council to ask senior staff for updates about ongoing projects councillors may be interested in.

The meeting is open to the public and is not being streamed on the City’s Youtube Channel.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia, I\mages Supplied)


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