By John Swartz
Orillia council has two special meetings November 30 at Rotary Place. The day starts at 1 p.m. for their semi-annual meeting with the strategic leadership team (staff) and at 4 p.m. they will have a closed session.
To begin, they have two items on the public agenda. One is the purpose of the meeting, the other is a report from staff – a presentation about a public engagement proposal.
The latter is an outline about how staff wants to modify, or in some cases eliminate the various boards and committees of council.
Three boards are constituted and required by provincial legislation and there is not much any council anywhere can do about them. Those are the Orillia Public Library Board, the Orillia Police Services Board and the Downtown Orillia BIA Board.
The others, however council is free to change or tamper with as they want. Three others required by the province are judicial in nature, and each needs a certain level of expertise or understanding of the areas involved, likely to be able to make rulings that are bullet proof, so to speak. They are the committee of adjustment, property standards committee and the licensing appeal tribunal. Staff want to roll all those functions into one committee, saying they think it will be more efficient. Where staff expects to find people in the community with enough knowledge and interest in all those areas is not stated.
If there is one word to describe the administration at City Hall, it is control. A few years ago they advised council to standardize rules of engagement and procedures across all committees, but apparently have found out the limitations created. They are recommending council loosen procedure for the accessibility advisory, municipal heritage, and waste management advisory committees. Staff also think council should simplify the agenda formats as well.
Three award committees, grants and commemorative awards committees, and the Citizen of the Year need review of the terms of operation and policy to “streamline the approach.” They say the grants program is political in nature, which implies it needs fixing.
Citizen of the Year
The Citizen of the Year was only meant to be temporarily run by the City. In 2017 in the week after the Packet & Times abruptly closed and everyone was still in shock, SUNonline/Orillia approached then mayor Steve Clarke stating it was the time of year when the nomination and selection process for the award should be taking place. The award was managed, the selection decided, and the recipient announced New Year’s Eve by Packet staff, since it was their award.
SUNonline/Orillia believed having the award was an institution which should survive the closing of the Packet, and because SUNonline/Orillia was not in position to pick it up, the City should look into managing it until a news organization emerged strong enough to continue the tradition.
Council agreed and created policy for the award. The announcement shifted away from New Year’s Eve to a council meeting in January or February (the latter to account for election years and new councils being able to be involved – though no members of council are on the committee). Notification for nominations is supposed to be issued by the end of November, and on this last day of November notice has not been issued to media for the 2023 award.
Since the Packet no longer exists, committee membership was expanded. The policy states, “2 members of the local media preferably from different media forms (digital, print, radio)”. It should be noted, over 6 years, SUNonline/Orillia has not received an invitation to participate.
Since the suggestion of stewardship was made by SUNonline/Orillia to be temporary until a media organization emerged capable of continuing the award (though staff apparently view it as the City’s award now), and Orillia Matters has established itself (management are all ex-Packet staffers), the award should be handed off to them, unless of course, they want the City to continue, or another media organization (Orillia Today, 89.1 Max FM, or Pure Country 106) wishes to take it on and can demonstrate stability to continue it. For the record, SUNonline/Orillia will not consider shepherding the award because it rightly should be the new version of our local daily, Orillia Matters, handling it.
More Committee Change Proposals
Staff are proposing to simplify, streamline and add flexibility to the following committees:
active transportation committee
affordable housing committee
commemorative awards committee
economic development committee
environmental advisory committee
Farmers’ Market advisory committee
Orillia food committee
Orillia sunshine youth senate
parking advisory committee
recreation advisory committee
town and gown committee transit advisory committee
What simplify, streamline and add flexibility means is not stated in the presentation.
Staff think 4 committees should be eliminated because they are no longer necessary or not functioning. They are the, economic development, Farmers’ Market advisory, town and gown committees and the Orillia sunshine youth senate.
Staff would like to focus the following committee structures with council priorities:
environmental (+ climate change)
food (access & sustainability)
other (poverty reduction initiatives)
truth & reconciliation
equity, diversity and inclusivity
Does focusing preclude committee member imitated work, or responding to citizen proposals brought to the committee? Are they to only deal with what council sends them?
Staff say council should strike engagement teams of the above. What it means is not amplified in the presentation, but it looks like changing the status from committees of council, for which committee members get an annual, small stipend, to something else that makes them voluntary commitments (which they essentially are now) and takes the expense off the books.
Another proposal looks like some kind of committee should be created involving grants, the municipal accommodation tax, the innovation collective, the downtown tomorrow community improvement plan, tourism some of which have working committees. Those are all connected to the corporate services department through the business development, modernization and tourism office. Interestingly, arts and culture is lumped in here.
Since the culture department was unceremoniously disbanded in 2012, it seems administration does not know what to do with cultural management. Until this post-pandemic period, the culture community was drifting aimlessly with no center for the various groups in town to get excited about. First it was shuffled off to recreation. Sports is a cultural pursuit, but it’s difficult to make the connection between playing a trumpet and getting a first down, or managing the park system and the Opera House or Leacock Museum.
Today, the latter two have been split apart from the culture portfolio and placed under the tourism header. While culture is has a tourism aspect, certainly here, what happens with and in both those places should be manged from an arts and culture perspective they are intended to be, rather than for tourism bucks. It also hardly fits with the other business oriented activities of the management chain it’s attached to.
It also must be puzzling to the public because it appears on the City’s website to be again associated with recreation as a division, which means recreation does not operate as a silo inside City Hall but as part of corporate services.
The Rest Of The Proposal
Staff are proposing that some of the committees listed above, affordable housing, climate change and environmental sustainability, food access/sustainability, recreation, transportation and parking committees be changed from committees of council to working groups – which could be interpreted as free labour.
Last on this presentation is something staff call “engage the public,” which in the bullet points does not mean engaging the public as one would think, but more about how council engages with the committees in whatever shape they take and getting people to step forward by “updating the process (for) board volunteer engagement.” The key word in all that is volunteer. It seems most of the proposal is being presented as a way to get out of paying the small stipends given to committee members all together.
The Other Public Agenda Item
This one is actually first in the order and serves as an opportunity to go around the table and get thoughts from councillors regarding the budget process, and how each views of their experience of the first year on council.
It also has updates from leadership of the departments on various major issues. They are:
• legal file updates
• recent Occupational Health and Safety Act case – impacts to municipalities
• brief update on innovation collective
* brief update on enhanced service initiative.
Development Services and Engineering:
• Centennial Drive phases 1, 2 and 3
• Mississaga Street (and cross-streets) streetscape improvement project
• Inch Farm arterial road
Environment and Infrastructure
• Rotary Place
• waterfront dredging
• snow readiness
* update on fire services RFP.
Council will meet in private at 4 p.m. for a special meeting of the shareholder of Orillia Power Generation Corporation. From the agenda:
“The purpose of this meeting is to seek information and clarification from the board of directors of the Orillia Power Corporation about certain decisions related to personal matters.”
OPGC is currently down one board member, so it could be a new member will be discussed, or maybe selected since they have been advertising.
You can attend the meeting, or watch it on the City’s Youtube channel.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)