Haliburton County to change advisory committee format

By Chad Ingram

The County of Haliburton will be changing its advisory committee structure for a year’s trial in 2020 to see how it goes.

Currently the county’s advisory committees consist of some of the county’s eight councillors along with senior staff for a given department. The roads advisory committee for example includes five councillors who hear recommendations from senior staff discuss and then make recommendations to county council as a whole. A different member of council chairs each of those committees. Committee meetings are held the second Wednesday of most months with a full council meeting on the fourth Wednesday. The majority of the time recommendations from advisory committees are ultimately passed by county council.

For 2020 the format will switch to a committee-of-the-whole model; with all members of county council sitting in a large committee meeting that will essentially meld most of the existing advisory committee meetings together.

“I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or a wrong way but I favour a committee-of-whole structure” said Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts during a Nov. 27 county council meeting. Haliburton County council consists of the mayors and deputy mayors of each of the county’s four lower-tier municipalities.

On days when committee meetings are held most county councillors are there most of the day with breaks between during committee meetings they are not part of. Procedurally while watching a committee they are not part of they are essentially a member of the public therefore not involved in the conversation. However as Roberts pointed out often in these scenarios if an observing councillor in the gallery has a point they would like to make the chair often allows this.

Her colleagues were supportive of giving the model a trial run in 2020.

The Township of Minden Hills uses a committee-of-the-whole model. While it still has citizen advisory committees reports from those committees are brought to a committee-of-the-whole meeting (consisting of all members of council) mid-month where recommendations are discussed and those recommendations are then either passed or not at a full council meeting near the end of each month.

As Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin pointed out during Minden Hills committee-of-the-whole meetings whichever council member chairs a respective advisory committee acts as the committee-of-the-whole chairperson for the portion of the meeting where that portfolio is being discussed. He suggested that county committee-of-the-whole meeting could use the same format with the chairs of existing committees becoming temporary chairs during the course of the meeting with the meeting opened and adjourned by the warden.

Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen who was county warden for 2019 and has been acclaimed by colleagues to serve again as warden for 2020 said she could see the benefits to such a format but didn’t want to see councillors’ remuneration shrink as a result.

“I wouldn’t like to see anybody paid less than they are now” she said.

County councillors currently receive $80 per committee meeting on top of their remuneration for attending regular meetings. Base remuneration for county councillors paid on per diem basis equates to just more than $8000 per year or more in the $15000 to $20000 range for whoever is warden for the year. That’s on top of their remuneration at their respective lower-tier levels. Mayors and deputy mayors throughout the county’s four lower-tier townships make somewhere between  $20000 and $30000 a year varying by township. Municipal political positions in the county are considered part time.

Roberts suggested the remuneration could work out so that councillors’ overall income would not drop.

Chief administrative officer Mike Rutter was asked if a committee-of-the-whole structure would reduce work for staff. He said perhaps slightly not significantly and stressed that shouldn’t be a factor in council’s decision.

Ultimately councillors were favourable to trying the new format for year.

There are a few advisory committees that include members of the public such as committees for tourism and accessibility and those committee structures would remain the same it was indicated at the meeting.