Calgary

Roll call triggers angry words, frustration at city council

Coun. Jeromy Farkas wants council meeting minutes to reflect who is in attendance. His request for roll calls are frustrating for some of his colleagues.

Farkas wants attendance recorded but his method of doing that isn't appreciated

Coun. Jyoti Gondek is frustrated with Coun. Jeromy Farkas over his request for roll call. (CBC)

Coun. Jyoti Gondek has a bone to pick with Coun. Jeromy Farkas.

A visibly agitated Gondek walked briskly away from Farkas at the end of Wednesday's council meeting.  

The issue? His request for a roll call so the minutes could reflect who was present.

Since being elected last fall, Farkas has made a point of asking for a roll call at the end of every meeting.

It's his way of getting it on the record who was there. At least, it shows who was there at that moment. But for him, that's better than nothing.

Council attendance 'insane'

One thing Farkas is clear about is that he's not doing this because he feels council has an issue with absenteeism.

"I do not think that there is an attendance problem here at council. The data is very clear, it shows us at — something like, insane — at 98 per cent [attendance]," said Farkas.

He knows that because when he previously researched municipal issues at the Manning Centre, Farkas watched many hours of council meeting videos.

Watching video and taking note of who was there is the only way to know who actually attended a meeting.

There currently is no requirement to explain either at the meeting or in the minutes why a council member might be absent.

For example, a council member might be out of town on council business. Or have to leave the final minutes of a long council meeting to attend a police commission meeting.

It's also possible they could be looking after a sick family member or attending a funeral.

No one knows why a council chair is empty because there is no requirement to disclose that.

So Farkas asked for a roll call.

Measure not appreciated

Council members have been rolling their eyes, sometimes responding jokingly to the roll call with 'no' or just ridiculing the new practice since Farkas joined council.

On Wednesday, Gondek made it clear she's had enough.

What set her off was earlier in the meeting, Farkas said there needs to be a new mechanism to record why a council member is absent.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he and Farkas could have a discussion later with the city clerk on possible ways to do that.

But it was at the end of the meeting — when Farkas made his now familiar request for a roll call — that Gondek signalled her displeasure.

"Do I have to participate, given what was spoken this morning by Councillor Farkas of his intent behind this?"

Nenshi answered that she did.

"In protest, I am participating. You don't say something and then do the counter-effect. And yes. I'm here," said Gondek.

Farkas answered off-mic that he plans to continue requesting roll calls until a reform is made. 

Dispute kept going

The meeting then ended. 

But their disagreement continued. 

Farkas wanted to talk about it but Gondek angrily told him, "I am done," and then she walked out of the chamber. 

Afterwards, she said her comment was merely her expressing her frustration with Farkas and she no longer wanted to talk about it.

"If you indicate very clearly that your intention in roll call is not to 'out' people for not being there, then you have a point that says 'we need to fix the system'. Great. You made your argument. You made your position known," said Gondek.  

"Why revert back to the same tactic (asking for a roll call) that you know is not representing what you intended?"

Farkas wants transparency

Farkas responds by saying it's about putting this information on the record — even if it's bothering the other elected officials he has to work with.

"My requests are rubbing people the wrong way but I don't think it should," said Farkas.

"What happens at city hall belongs to Calgarians and Calgarians deserve to know how we are conducting business."

While she disagrees with the way Farkas is approaching this, Gondek does feel that greater transparency on the attendance issue would allow citizens to learn why a politician isn't at a meeting.

"There are members of council who haven't been here because they've got parents who are dying. We had a member of council have to attend a close family member's funeral," said Gondek.

"We don't have to air all that. Somewhere it should be indicated it was a personal matter."

However, until a new method is developed to record who is at council meetings, who isn't and why, Farkas said he'll continue asking for roll calls at the end of council meetings.

Even if all it indicates is who was there during that final moment. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Dippel

Politics Reporter

Scott Dippel has been at CBC News for more than two decades across four provinces. His roles have included legislative reporter, news reader, assignment editor and national reporter. When not at Calgary's City Hall, it's still all politics, all the time.

now