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Role of council is to set out town policy

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This week marks Local Government Week, which is being promoted by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario, and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario as a time for the public to learn more about municipal government.

This article is the first of a series describing the roles and responsibilities of council and the town’s divisions—Administration and Finance, Community Services, Operations and Facilities, and Planning and Development.

Local governance is handled by the mayor and council. The current town council consists of Mayor Roy Avis, and Couns. John Albanese, Andrew Hallikas, Ken Perry, Paul Ryan, Sharon Tibbs, and Rick Wiedenhoeft.

Governance means the process of exercising corporate leadership by the policy-making authority, done on behalf of the public to the organization as a whole. Leadership is exercised to ensure the purpose, control, and future of the organizations, and ensure the mandate of organization is achieved.

This is in contrast to management, which is responsible for sound administrative practices in the undertaking of necessary actions or implementing the policy decisions of council.

Council is responsible for setting out municipal policy while staff is responsible for researching, providing evidence, and implementing council’s policy direction.

In addition to providing the powers a municipality can exercise (whether it’s property taxation, licensing and regulating businesses, and construction and maintenance of roads and sidewalks, among others), the Municipal Act has set out the distinct governance roles of council and its head (the mayor).

According to the Municipal Act, it is the role of council to:

•represent the public and consider the well-being and interests of the municipality;

•to develop and evaluate the policies and programs of the municipality;

•to determine which services the municipality provides;

•to ensure that administrative practices and procedures are in place to implement the decision of council;

•to maintain the financial integrity of the municipality; and

•to carry out the duties of council under this or any other act.

Under the act, the role of mayor is:

•act as chief executive officer of the municipality;

•preside over council meetings;

•provide leadership to the council;

•represent the municipality at official functions; and

•carry out duties of the head of council under this or any other act.

Council’s decision-making process is tied into committee of the whole and council meetings.

All requests by individuals or groups wishing to appear before council at a regular meeting shall advise the town clerk in writing not later than noon on the Thursday prior to the meeting. Council meetings usually are held the second and fourth Monday of the month.

The town administrator determines the direction and location of each request on the agenda, and each item is labelled accordingly. These requests normally are referred to specific executive committees (Administration and Finance, Community Services, Operations and Facilities, and Planning and Development) for recommendation and response.

Executive committees meet prior to each council meeting in order that they may discuss any business arising from the previous council meeting. After executive committees meet, the division manager is given direction for response to council by writing a report, including the recommendations of his/her executive committee.

External committees, such as the Economic Development Advisory Committee or Police Services Board, meet at the direction of their respective chairpersons.

These recommendations and responses are included under the committee of the whole of council for approval by council. Resolutions arising from the committee of the whole business are brought forward to be read in the open meeting of council.

The clerk then will respond to the requester with council’s decision.

Aside from council proper, the four main executive committees, and the advisory committees stemming from those, there are numerous committees of council, including Court of Revision, Municipal Control Group, Suggestions Awards, Citizen of the Year, the Moffat Foundation, and Fort Frances Non-Profit Innovative Housing.

The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act imposes rules on members of council in disclosing a personal interest they might have in transactions with their municipality, and the consequences of failing to observe and act according to the requirements of this are very serious.

Council and town staff must maintain a professional working relationship, must have open and honest communications via “active listening” (a dialogue, as opposed to monologue), and must establish a single point of contact through the CAO with clear protocols for purpose.

They also must strive to build an environment of trust and respect, paying high regard to each others’ roles.

Part of being a member of council is hearing complaints from the public. The town has a customer complaint policy in place to ensure such complaints receive proper and prompt responses.

The majority of complaints brought to council on an informal basis have a corresponding policy or practice that addresses them.

While the initial tendency for council may be to provide an immediate answer to the complainant, mayor and council should direct the complaint through the processes to avoid a precedent-setting situation.

Policy changes should be affected during the normal procedures of a council meeting and not “on the fly” while answering a complaint.

Instead, complaints should be made directly to the Civic Centre, either at the front desk during business hours or by calling 274-5323 after hours.

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