Winnipeg mayor says 'accountability measure' needed to curb councillors' unauthorized absences

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman wants to crack down on councillors who miss city meetings.

City councillors have complained about absences at meetings, Mayor Brian Bowman says

Mayor Brian Bowman speaks to reporters about his motion to record councillors' absences at city meetings. (CBC)

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman wants to crack down on councillors who miss city meetings.

The mayor introduced a motion on Tuesday to track and record unauthorized absences, saying some city councillors have reached out to him with concerns about rising absenteeism.

"It is absolutely an accountability measure and greater openness and transparency for the people that we serve," Bowman said Tuesday.

Councillors can miss meetings for legitimate reasons, like illness, serious family matters or other city business, Bowman said. The motion would concern councillors who miss meetings for other reasons, or who don't get approval beforehand.

"I think in those instances where there isn't one of the criteria that's set out — illness, personal family matters, something like that — I would expect in those circumstances it would simply be noted in the minutes that it was an unauthorized absence," Bowman said.

"As chair, when people don't explain their absences to you it gets a little tiresome, frankly, when you're trying to get the work done," said Coun. Brian Mayes.

Mayes and Bowman singled out Coun. Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan), who Mayes said missed the past five monthly meetings of the food committee. Two of those meetings didn't have quorum.

"This food council took a lot of work to set up and we got people coming in here on their own time," Mayes said. "I don't want to waste their time. I want to make sure we have quorum."

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) said he's frustrated when councillors miss meetings. (CBC)

Schreyer said missing those meetings was a "bizarre fluke," and he couldn't attend them for reasons including an urgent family situation in March and a family vacation in February. He was dealing with other city business during the other three meetings, he said.

"I have to deal with a schedule around here and that includes a conflicting schedule," he said.

Overall, Schreyer said his attendance record for meetings where he's the chair is "excellent," and is similar to the attendance records of other councillors for meetings where he isn't the chair.

"You'll find that mine is at least as good as theirs," he said.

'Playing politics'

In his remarks to reporters, Bowman also singled out Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), who he said missed an important council meeting for a vacation to Mexico.

"He obviously chose to get on a plane and go sit on a beach in Mexico," he said.

Browaty, however, said that absence was a result of a change to long-standing council meeting schedules that usually place meetings on Wednesdays. He said he'd booked his vacation well in advance and would have been back in time for the meeting if its date hadn't changed.

"He's playing politics, singling me out," Browaty said. "I haven't missed many meetings at all, whether it's for city business or personal matters, for that matter."

​But Browaty said he didn't have any problems with the mayor's motion, and said he thinks the city is getting lax about giving councillors approved absences for personal matters.

"If you're away for city business, it's reasonable that members of the public know that you're being excused from a city meeting. It should be on the record," he said.

"If it's a personal matter, it better be a serious personal matter, not a vacation."

Under city rules, if councillors miss three council meetings in a row, their seats are considered vacant.