Make the most of your time at council: attend committee

Off-site council participation could rise as webcasting looms in Oak Bay’s future

Streamed council and committee meetings could start as early as this month and some residents may not fully recognize the difference between the two types of meetings.

“Committee of the Whole tends to be more of an opportunity to explore a variety of issues in a more relaxed, open way,” says Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.

In Oak Bay – not all communities do it this way – the committee is a roll-up-the-sleeves evening where residents, council members and staff sit around a table in council chambers. It’s where new projects, rezoning applications or variances sought are often introduced.

It’s not unusual for an application to return to consecutive committee meetings as proponents and staff fill information gaps, before the committee – made up of council – makes its recommendation to council.

Those recommendations go back to council, where they can choose to follow their own advice, or if there’s new information, alter the decision.

“It’s not always a done deal,” Jensen said. “There’s more of a give and take (at committee) that’s in sharp contrast to the council meeting.”

Council is a legislative, decision-making setting where members are on a raised platform, the mayor wears the chains of office and staff line one wall of the room answering questions only through the chair of the meeting. Those in the galley, or audience, rise as mayor and council enter at the start of the meeting.

Two or three years ago, Oak Bay introduced the 20-minute public participation section to the council agenda. Speakers are limited in time but can talk about anything that relates to the community, whether it’s on the agenda or not.

“I’d seen it work in other boards. It gives people the ability to have their say on Oak Bay,” Jensen said.

There are other meetings as well. Advisory bodies to council include the Advisory Planning Commission established last year, Uplands Design Panel and the Heritage Commission.

The commissions, panel and police board generally meet once a month.

The Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission holds more authority, working with its own budget and having the ability to make day-to-day decisions. “They’re mandated and powered,” Jensen said.

In Oak Bay, committee meetings are held generally once a month with council often twice – with summer meetings more sparse.

When crowds are expected, council or committee will shift its meeting (most common for a public hearing) to a larger venue. The recent Committee of the Whole meeting devoted to the Uplands sewer separation project hosted at Monterey rec centre was a good example.

Committee next meets April 18 and council  April 25. All meetings start at 7 p.m., usually in chambers at municipal hall, 2167 Oak Bay Ave. Meeting agendas and minutes are also available online at oakbay.ca.