On the surface there was a case to be made in Coun. Lloyd Ferguson’s suggestion to move council meetings from the current 5PM start time to 9:30 AM. Council had just gone through a marathon meeting on the Red Hill safety issue that ended at 3AM, and Ferguson’s point was that legislators don’t make good decisions when they are at the end of an exhausting meeting. In addition, all meetings of council are videotaped and archived and available for review online at any time. But some of Ferguson’s colleagues attacked the idea from several sides. Newcomers Narindr Nann and Maureen Wilson said the change would restrict public access and engagement. Others like Clrs. Merulla and Collins said they would like to see the meetings go back to a 7PM start, to allow even more public access. Despite an apparent consensus around the table that the majority did not want to change the start time, council nonetheless voted to allow the matter to be forwarded to the Governance sub-committee for consideration.
That’s where the unintended consequences kicked in. The governance subcommittee advertised for public submissions on the topic and received 54 replies—nearly 90 percent against the time switch. But the submissions didn’t stop with discussing the meeting schedule. A number of respondents used the opportunity to re-ignite old grievances like council’s decisions to hold interviews for the city manager’s post at a Niagara –on-the-Lake resort. Other respondents made mention of habitually delayed start times for meetings because of chronically tardy councillors. Other respondents expressed their opposition to councillors receiving taxpayer-funded lunches. Three respondents went after Ferguson personally, suggesting he pack it in if he didn’t like late meetings.
Typical of the responses:
“I am extremely disappointed with the efforts to try and close off meetings to the public and the movement of the meetings for interviewing potential city manager candidates to a hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Hamilton elected officials must do better – their jobs are on the line.”
“I feel if this change were to take place then this could me a mechanism to have sneaky backdoor politics take over more than they already have.”
“Hamilton city council, should be having meetings in Hamilton, not an out of town spa also as a tax payer i feel free lunches for councillors is absurd, they should pay for themselves.”
“I feel (the proposed change) is a direct attempt by some councillors to see fewer community activists attend.”
“I find it disgusting that Councillor Ferguson proposed this change by linking the Red-Hill fiasco to a meeting that ran late into the evening. If you oppose the current schedule, why run?”
“If Mr. Ferguson doesn’t like the time of the council meetings perhaps he should find something else to do. I’m sure there are plenty of other people willing to fill his seat that would be fine with the current time.”
“Council already had a tough enough time with attendance and making quorum and I don’t think the 9:30 start time will help that.”
“Some councillors (and we know who) are quite verbose, repetitive and often stray off topic. They need to be reined in.”
How are hard-working Hamiltonians expected to voice concerns when councillors meet only during business hours? Not acceptable especially when they don’t show up on time as it is.”
Typical of many of the comments opposing the time shift: “City Council is here to serve the community not at their own convenience and this motion seems to forget that very idea.”
Some of the respondents seemed unaware that public delegations are not heard at council, but at committees– all of which meet during the day–necessitating delegates who work, to take time off.Staff were asked to survey other Ontario communities for their meeting schedules. Out of eight communities surveyed, five held afternoon or evening meetings, three in the morning.