In the space of four years, this council has tabled 2400 motions and in 96% of them voted unanimously in favour. That record might raise questions in the minds of some. Do individual councillors think and act independently, or are they simply conformists? Are they simply filling a seat and collecting a pay-cheque? One could be excused for believing that vigorous examination and debate of the issues is absent around the council table.
The truth of the matter is that this council has benefitted from a carefully-laid foundation at the start of our mandate. Within weeks of this council’s election it met, along with senior staff, for a two-day retreat at which a strategic plan was laid out, along with a clear vision built around “Four Cornerstones” that would direct both staff and council during the next four years. Those Four Cornerstones, along with the Official Community Plan, 2016, would be foundational to every report presented to council; if they were not accounted for in the report, the report never made it to our table.
In my previous terms on Council, it was my experience that Council was often divided over applications that came before it, or over reports submitted by staff. Too frequently, the applicants left disenchanted with the process and staff were left puzzled and frustrated by the response they received from Council. Clarity and predictability have become the new norm; all parties - applicants, staff, and Council members have felt more confident about the process and more satisfied with the outcome. In the end, it is the City and its residents who have been the beneficiary.
A second piece that contributed to an effective council was the advent of alternating weeks of council meetings and more informal Council of the Whole (COW) meetings. These COW meetings provided an opportunity for council to preview staff reports and to provide invaluable feedback, which staff then considered in shaping their final reports, which were then vetted by the city manager. By the time these reports appeared on council agendas, we were confident that the likelihood of seeing a report we could accept would be high. In previous years, council often sent reports back to staff for reconsideration, or they resulted in split votes and created divisiveness among council members.
Speaking for myself, if I know that a given proposal matches council’s priorities and meets all the requirements set out in policies and bylaws that we as council have already accepted, it becomes a more straight-forward process of approval and eliminates frivolous debate. In short, this council has been the most effective council I’ve served on.
A recent Abbotsford News story quoted Councillor Barkman saying that Council had become complacent.
I don't share Councillor Barkman's assessment of the situation. Debate simply for the sake of debate is not necessarily profitable use of time. If discussion/debate has already occurred and feedback from Council has assisted staff in shaping reports and proposals, then one should expect there to be less disagreement at decision time. Furthermore, the slate has not controlled the vote; they constitute 4 of 9 votes, and on most of the votes in which Cllr Barkman dissented, he was the lone dissenter.