Mayor-free meetings? Calgary City Council looks at ways to save time

City council will spend more time figuring out how to save time at council meetings, including having a councillor chair them rather than the mayor.

'It ain't easy,' Nenshi warns councillors of leading role as they weigh options for more efficient meetings

City council spent 90 minutes on Tuesday trying to figure out how to save time at meetings. The matter has now been put over to a committee meeting in July.

City council will spend more time figuring out how to save time at council meetings, including having a councillor chair them rather than the mayor. 

Council's priorities and finance committee spent 90 minutes on Tuesday discussing whether changing who chairs the meeting could make the gatherings more efficient.

The options:

  • Let the mayor continue to chair meetings.
  • Select a councillor to do the job.
  • Bring in an external chair — something that could cost $170,000 a year given the council workload.

The committee voted 5-4 to have administration examine options for putting a councillor into the role and report back in July.  

If council were to approve changes, they would take effect after this fall's municipal election.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi supports the idea of having a councillor chair council meetings rather than an outside hire. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Nenshi jokes, 'It ain't easy'

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he favours having a councillor do the job rather that someone from outside council.

"I always joke that the only thing that unites council is their general hatred of me so I wonder if that would translate into a general hatred of the external chair? I don't know," said Nenshi.

The mayor said freeing him — or a future mayor — from the job of chairing meetings would give the city's top elected official more latitude to weigh in on issues in debates.

However, Nenshi cautioned council members that moving into a parliamentary, speaker-like role carries some risks for them.

"It's not just what happens in the meeting. It's bringing the agenda forward. It's making sure that you know every page of every item of the agenda so that you can chair the meeting. It ain't easy," said Nenshi.

"It really is going to suck up your time."

Councillor Richard Pootmans thinks the mayor should be freed up from meeting and out promoting the city. (Richard Pootmans/Facebook)

Best use of mayor's time?

Coun. Richard Pootmans supports the idea of freeing the mayor from the responsibility of keeping council meetings on track.

"I don't believe the highest and best use of a mayor's time is chairing a meeting," said Pootmans. He said a higher priority for the mayor should be out in the community or travelling to promote Calgary, instead of being tied to chairing meetings.

But others on council think it's part of the mayor's job to run council meetings, adhering to the rule book.

If meetings take too long for some people's liking, then Carra said, "that's a First World problem."

He'd rather address the number of items coming before council if there's a perceived need to make meetings shorter.

It's not 'rocket science': Woolley

Coun. Evan Woolley said having a councillor step in to chair meetings would take them away from their committee work. He said there's "no way he'd sign up for that," given his other duties.

Woolley said a minority of council members take up too much time in meetings, but he didn't provide names.

"I think we just need to do a better job of moving these meetings along and I don't think that it's rocket science."

A report from administration on options for having a councillor chair council meetings will be discussed at the July meeting of the priorities and finance committee.