Proposed by-law would give Peterborough city councillors the power to dissolve citizen advisory committees

Brought forward by Mayor Leal, by-law for new portfolio chair system was endorsed by councillors on February 20

Peterborough Mayor Jeff Leal chairing a city council meeting in 2023. (kawarthaNOW screenshot of City of Peterborough video)
Peterborough Mayor Jeff Leal chairing a city council meeting in 2023. (kawarthaNOW screenshot of City of Peterborough video)

A proposed new City of Peterborough by-law for a new portfolio chair system for city councillors would give chairs the power to establish or dissolve citizen advisory committees.

At city council’s general committee meeting on Tuesday (February 20), Mayor Jeff Leal brought forward a proposed by-law that would reduce the number of portfolios, while also recommending the assignment of councillors to each of the new portfolios.

“It does appear to me that our portfolios should mirror (the commissioners who lead city departments) and of course the various divisions within those commissioners’ responsibility,” Leal said, first referring to an earlier presentation by city commissioners and senior staff about the city’s organizational structure.

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“This is about improving governance in the City of Peterborough,” Leal added. “I reflect back in 1985 when we had a budget of about $85 million all in and now, in 2024, we have a budget that’s approaching half a billion dollars. So basically we have in place today the same governance structure that we had back in 1985.”

The proposed by-law would reduce the number of portfolios from 17 to six and, instead of assigning two councillors as a chair and vice chair for each portfolio as in the past, would assign two councillors as co-chairs for each portfolio.

The existing portfolios are: arenas, parks and recreation; arts, culture and heritage; development and construction; diversity; economic development; environment and climate change; finance; fire services; homelessness; housing; planning; public works; seniors; social services; transportation; waste management; and youth.

The new portfolios would be: community services – arts and culture, library services and social services (housing); community services – recreation and parks, fire services and arenas; finance and corporate support services; infrastructure, planning and growth management; legislative services; and municipal operations.

PDF: Portfolio Chairs By-law, COU24-001
Portfolio Chairs By-law, COU24-001

During the meeting, councillor Keith Riel decried a lack of prior consultation about the proposed assignments of councillors to the new portfolios, stating “I was never consulted, but I’m being volun-told now exactly where I’m going to be placed.” Riel’s motion to defer a vote on the proposed by-law until there could a group meeting for further discussion was defeated 9-2, with councillor Dave Haacke begin the only other councillor to support Riel’s motion.

While almost all councillors supported moving forward immediately with the mayor’s new portfolio system, none discussed a section of the proposed by-law that would give them a new authority over the advisory committees that provide advice to council and city staff and include citizens who are appointed to the committees.

Section 9 of the proposed by-law states that a portfolio chair may “strike and dissolve advisory committees comprised of such individuals other than city staff as the portfolio chair considers appropriate to advise the portfolio chair respecting matters related to the portfolio.”

Although councillor Kevin Duguay put forward a friendly amendment to change a word in section 9 from “strike” to “establish” (as he was concerned the former word had negative connotations), there was no other discussion about section 9, including how it could affect the governance of existing or future advisory committees.

The proposed by-law would delay implementation of section 9 until a later date “to permit staff an opportunity to report back respecting the status and roles of the city’s current advisory committees,” at which point council would have to amend the by-law to put section 9 into effect. There was no additional detail or discussion about the nature of the staff report.

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There are currently seven advisory committees: the Accessibility Advisory Committee; the Arenas, Parks, and Recreation Advisory Committee; the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee; the Community Investment Grant Advisory Committee; the Museum & Archives Advisory Committee; the Peterborough Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee; and the Peterborough Environmental Advisory Committee.

The existing advisory committees were originally established by council through individual by-laws, but these by-laws were rescinded and replaced in 2022 with a new advisory committee by-law (22-088) that consolidated the mandates and meeting procedures contained in the previous individual by-laws into a single by-law, and included a schedule containing the terms of reference for each of the existing committees. City council passed the by-law at the end of its December 12, 2022 meeting with no discussion.

That by-law maintains the authority of city council as a whole to approve decisions about advisory committees, stating that the schedule of committees could be “amended, as required, by a council-approved recommendation of the applicable advisory committee.” The proposed by-law would delegate decision-making authority to a portfolio chair, apparently without requiring approval by council.

Presumably any decisions about advisory committees would require agreement by both of the co-chairs assigned to a portfolio, although the mayor’s proposed by-law does not specify how co-chairs would work together and what would happen if co-chairs disagree on a decision.

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As for the mayor’s proposed portfolio by-law, councillors voted to endorse it after first voting to rescind a previous by-law from December 12, 2022 that established existing portfolio chairs. Councillors also voted to endorse the mayor’s selection of co-chair assignments to the new portfolios.

The co-chair assignments are as follows: councillors Andrew Beamer and Dave Haacke to the finance and corporate support services portfolio; councillors Matt Crowley and Joy Lachica to the legislative services portfolio; councillors Gary Baldwin and Don Vassiliadis to the municipal operations portfolio; councillors Kevin Duguay and Joy Lachica to the infrastructure, planning and growth management portfolio; councillors Lesley Parnell and Gary Baldwin to the community services – recreation, parks, fire services and arenas portfolio; and councillors Keith Riel and Alex Bierk to the community services – arts and culture, social services (housing) and library services portfolio.

Items endorsed by general committee on February 20 will be considered by council for final approval on Monday (February 26). Registered delegations will be allowed to speak at that meeting.