It appears a trial run of having afternoon council committee meetings has been a real trial for some city councillors.
As a result, after a spirited debate, city politicians have decided that both council committee meetings and regular council meetings will all start at 6 p.m. in 2020.
The decision is subject to ratification at Monday’s council meeting.
Coun. Mason Ainsworth, who recently accepted a full-time job with an advertising firm, asked his council colleagues to go back to evening meetings.
“For some of us, it hasn’t been going too well,” said the second-term councillor. “It’s been quite stressful for those of us who are doing full-time jobs or other things out in the community and created a lot of hardships.”
Coun. Jay Fallis, a part-time professor at Georgian College, agreed.
Afternoon meetings have “hindered accessibility for both the public and council members,” Fallis said.
“I really want to stress that the ability to do our job rests on an active effort to collect public input and the 7 p.m. time slot for both council and committee (meetings) better ensures that more public has access to our meetings,” said the Ward 3 councillor.
He said councillors receive their package of information for Monday meetings either Thursday or Friday and typically pore over the documents during the weekend. Monday is an important time to talk to staff about questions or concerns.
“Having a meeting at 2 p.m. hinders that ability to some extent,” he noted.
Coun. David Campbell, who works full-time in the IT department at the Township of Severn, said he might not have even run for council if he knew half of their regular meetings would be held during afternoons.
A majority of councillors agreed to the trial after they were elected.
“When I ran for council, meetings were at 7 p.m.,” said Campbell, noting he’s fortunate to have a flexible employer.
“I have heard people say they simply wouldn’t be able to run because they wouldn’t have that time available,” said the rookie Ward 1 councillor. “I really feel we don’t want to eliminate any possible people from sitting at this table and trying to contribute to the city and I think that’s what (afternoon meetings do).”
Coun. Pat Hehn, who was against the trial afternoon sessions, said the greater issue is diversity on council.
“What we’re saying is unless you own your own business or unless you are retired, you can’t run for council,” said the second-term Ward 4 councillor. “Is that the kind of council you want to have?”
She said she would like to see more women on council.
“I have been pounding the drums trying to get more women on council,” she said. “I think it’s a travesty we only have one woman on council.”
Hehn said she thinks “more women would be able to run for council if meetings were in the evening. I’m thinking of child care, I’m thinking of work/time issues.”
Coun. Ted Emond, Coun. Tim Lauer and Mayor Steve Clarke said their primary concern about reverting to the traditional 7 p.m. time slot was that many meetings ended up running quite late, leading to critical decisions being made when people were tired and frustrated.
“My objective is that council make the best decisions they possibly can and I believe that is done during the day,” said Lauer, a real estate agent.
He said many people work outside the “traditional” 9 to 5 hours, so accessibility for the public is less an issue than some expect. City staff confirmed they had not received any complaints about the 2 p.m. start times from the public.
The mayor said for those who start their days early, late meetings can be challenging.
“The ability to focus on important issues” when meetings go to 11 p.m. … “that was a very real issue” during the last term of council, said Clarke.
In the end, Campbell suggested a compromise: moving all regular council and committee start times to 6 p.m.
A majority of council agreed to that compromise.