The town council in Hawkesbury is changing its meeting structure.
At the January 27 meeting, council unanimously decided to adopt a Committee of the Whole format beginning in February.
Councillor Robert Lefebvre has long been a proponent of the idea and said it will allow for more open discussion of issues among councillors and more efficient decision making.
He explained that council had four standing committees that explored issues such as general government and public works prior to July 2018 when Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Daniel Gatien was hired. Following the 2018 municipal election, the new council chose to suspend the four standing committees and have department heads report directly to the CAO and council on a one-year trial basis.
Lefebvre said the one-year experiment is now up and the time had come to suggest the Committee of the Whole format.
Council meets twice each month, and the department heads present reports at the second meeting of the month.
He said it is difficult to give enough attention to issues requiring a thorough discussion, adding that regular evening council meetings are now frequently up to four hours in length with long closed sessions, which is difficult for people who have already worked all day.
He questioned if good decisions can be made late at night, especially on personnel matters.
The Committee of the Whole format will allow for more informal discussion and allow councillors to give feedback on issues before they are finalized at a following regular council meeting.
Lefebvre explained that having the discussions in person with council together is not the same as exchanging numerous emails among members and town staff in between meetings because things can easily be misinterpreted.
“I`m very wary of deciding things by email,” he added.
Information and discussion is needed in order to make policies, and discussion helps councillors work together, according to Lefebvre.
“It`s a form of team-building, as I see it,” he said.
The United Counties of Prescott and Russell and Champlain Township also use a Committee of the Whole format for their meetings.