Calgary city council

According to a report by the Manning Foundation, city councillors are faced with an overwhelming amount of pre-meeting reading. (CBC)

Calgary's city council is overworked and understaffed, according to a new report by the Manning Foundation.

City councillors have far too much reading to do prior to meetings and not enough time and resources to effectively do their jobs, according to researchers Peter McCaffrey and Jeromy Anton Farkas at the conservative leaning non-profit organization.

"Lost in Notation: Calgary City Council Workload Report” suggests time pressure is forcing councillors to rely on report summaries and other compilations by city officials rather being able to analyze policy issues in detail on their own.

“Excessive workload can make it harder for the councillors themselves to attract and retain qualified staff to assist them, as well as from the get go, attract qualified candidates to run for office in the first place,” said Farkas.

The foundation’s namesake, Preston Manning, said he couldn’t believe how much reading Calgary’s councillors have to do. The former Reform Party leader said in Ottawa, MPs have staff do that work and then provide a summary.

"I think we had as much, or more, but virtually every MP has at least one person dedicated to nothing but reading this stuff,” he said.

Meetings last 8 hours on average

The report found city councillors spent 206 hours sitting in council since October's election, with each meeting lasting on average nearly eight hours.

Those meetings required about 500 hours of reading beforehand — just under 20 hours of reading per meeting.

“Councillor workload aside, the sheer volume of material produced for each meeting makes it incredibly difficult for the general public to participate in the democratic process, and for the media to hold council to account,” the report said.

Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley said all the reading can get in the way of spending time with constituents.

"It's a real balancing act between those two ends,” he said. “I’ve become an expert skimmer with the amount of information."

McCaffrey and Farkas recommend more streamlined reports and allowing councillors to hire more support staff.