The Ontario Municipal Act demands that people elected to sit on local councils have to attend meetings. But Russell Township council members are divided on the question of what happens when someone elected to sit on council makes a habit of missing meetings.
“It’s only been a concern one time,” said Councillor Jamie Laurin, referring to a past situation involving a former member of council who was often absent from regular sessions. “We really are wasting time on this when it’s never been a big issue. It makes no sense.”
Council has begun reviewing a bylaw that will replace, if approved, the present guidelines for remuneration paid to council members for attending both regular and special meetings of council and for attending advisory committee meetings. The bylaw may also provide a suggested list of penalties for repeated absence from scheduled meetings without reasonable excuse.
Mayor Pierre Leroux noted that the role of council is to meet for the creation and development of approved policies “for the benefit of the community” and that some guidelines may be needed to help ensure anyone elected to council understands the responsibility.
“If you’re not at the table to help make those decisions,” he said, “then you’re not fulfilling your role.”
Councillor Laurin argued that the voters are the best way to ensure council members make an effort to attend meetings. If they fail their duty, he said, they get voted out in the next election.
“Council members are accountable to the taxpayers,” he said. “Not to other council members.”
Councillor Laurin indicated that he would agree to including guidelines in the policy bylaw that took account of advances in Internet technology that allows people to attend meetings by “telepresence” from wherever they might be as long as they have either a computer terminal or a cellular phone with a video chat feature.
Laurin emphasized that council members should not be allowed to “just stay at home” and attend meetings by telepresence. Attending a council or other meeting by a videoconference or other such setup should be allowed only if the council members are out of town at the time a meeting is called or may be forced to stay home because of illness.
Councillor Mike Tarnowksi expressed concern that the proposed bylaw “has no teeth to it” for enforcing any kind of accountability for attending meetings.
The proposed bylaw has received first reading and is now back with administration staff for review and revision based on suggestions and input from council members. It will come back for a second reading at a future session of council.