By Mike Archer. Mayor Henry Braun promised to remove the small group of local individuals who held an inordinate amount of influence over Abbotsford City Hall through their control of and presence on one or more of the 20 committees of council under the old regime.
He has lived up to his word.
While Braun is being politic in his public discourse on the matter, citing the enormous amount of staff time and expense and the equally enormous amount of unreadable paperwork, reports and time of councillors which was wasted under the old system, it is nonetheless also true that the enormous power wielded by a few un-elected people and organizations has been eliminated as a result of Braun’s pruning.
His decision to strike a Committee of the Whole, to meet between officially scheduled council meetings and which will be, wait for it, open to the public, is another wise move in, not only streamlining decision-making at City Hall but in allowing the public to play its rightful role in the process.
Despite the bad optics of starting off the first working day of council with an in camera meeting last Monday, the first steps this mayor has taken in re-organizing the committee structure took courage and betray a sense of purpose and commitment to open government not seen in Abbotsford in years.[The previous mayor announced his intention to change the committee structure only to announce, within days of taking the job, that the entire structure would stay the same and the powerful backroom boys would keep their positions of influence.]
Even the way council meetings and public hearings are being run under the new mayor provide a refreshing change.
Many people don’t realize that council meetings, and especially public hearings, are not an occasion for open discourse with council. As a result, many people are left with the impression that councillors and the mayor are not the least bit interested in their presentations, opinions or question. The truth is that, in many cases, by law, they are not allowed to answer.
Braun has changed that perception by intervening on behalf of the members of the public who rise to speak and having staff answer their questions. As a result, members of the public who have put a lot of work and personal commitment into appearing before council to share their concerns no longer leave feeling ignored.
It appears, under this mayor, staff will be playing a much more active role in answering questions from the citizens of Abbotsford. Hopefully, in the fullness of time, we may even see the return of open questions at the end of council meetings – a practice discontinued by former Mayor George Peary.
A good start to the new regime.