Monty Simon writes a regular blog at montysimon.blogspot.ca and offers it as a regular column to The Neepawa Press. There is nothing more frustrating than experiencing exactly what was warned of happening when Council reverted back to the portfolio system hardly a year ago. The election of 2010 revealed that you, the Boss of Council, desired a change in how you are governed. You sent a clear message. At least some thought it was clear...the new Council you elected under then Mayor Ron Forsman acted quickly, discarding the restaurant meetings (that's where we secretly discussed everything beforehand), moved Council Chambers to a more accessible venue and changed our governance structure from portfolios to Council as a Whole. Sometimes referred to as Committee of the Whole, this system requires that ALL of Council deals with ALL the issues at hand. Everyone hears every other viewpoint or idea. The solution accomplished with all hands on deck. A lot of unforeseen things happened in the first year of this Council term. No need to review all of them. Years of operating under the micro management of Council portfolios may have made the drastic changes underway too challenging for some on staff and oddly enough, for some of the new members of Council, too. I would have bet that someone who was fresh to the scene, not knowing the difference, would quickly garner the concept of how to govern as a full Council unit. I was wrong. With the by-election of a new Mayor and one new Councillor came a full swing reversion to a system that at it's core is rife with the potential for failure of you, the public. Pretty harsh words for some to hear, I'm sure. You can argue with me all you like, call it my opinion if it makes you feel better, but you cannot escape the FACTS. Those new Council members elected in 2010, whom I thought would support sustaining the committee of the whole structure became frustrated with how things were going. With senior staff turning over or positions unfilled we were hard pressed to accomplish the things needing done. The conclusion was that it must be the system. Councillors weren't involved in staff operations enough. We didn't know what was going on. We needed to be in the proverbial kitchen to ensure the cake got baked. Wrong! Mayor Waddell immediately brought Council back to the portfolio system under the guise that it would allow new Council members to learn and get to know the town operations better as well as streamline the decision making process so we could catch up on all those things undone. I would learn later on that his motivations are somewhat different. The by-law governing Council committees is vague. As it was written, debated and passed I fought to ensure there might be at least something in it to work with. But there isn't and the by-law (#3101 for those who need to know) isn't followed. My biggest beef with portfolios is that they put the issues in the hands of a few, move the issue waaaaay down the road, then expect the remaining members to endorse their answer. Great if they do good work, keep Council informed of how they develop their strategy and listen to other non-committee members suggestions along the way. When this doesn't happen big problems can arise. By the time a committee has brought an issue to Council often a lot of work has transpired. Hopefully the work was thorough and the rest of Council can be satisfied on moving forward with the committee recommendation. But what if something was missed? Something BIG? This is where it gets interesting. Listen, Mayor Waddell has a method to his madness. One sure thing about the portfolio system is that it can make a Mayor's job much easier. Just think about it, trying to build consensus among six diverse councillors versus simply convincing two or three on a committee. The portfolio system also makes the Mayor very powerful. You see, under the Municipal Act the mayor is ex-officio member of all Council committees. When portfolios are structured with three Councillors such as we have, the Mayor makes it four. Four is a majority of council! Put another way, all the Mayor has to do is convince two of the committee and one non-committee member and he gets his way. Mayor Waddell explained all this to me himself. I despise this form of governance and you should, too. It wreaks of corruption. It turns what could be a strong group of people working together into little cliques vying to have their way. With a lack of desire to redo or make serious changes to their work, the committee can use its majority power to push their agenda. It is happening as we speak with the only active committee on Council, the Infrastructure Committee. I say only active because even though there is a Human Resources committee that has been in action, the other two portfolio committees have only met a combined half dozen times. The Community Development committee has met all of ONCE! This alone should suggest the portfolio system is flawed. WHILE ON ONE HAND IT CONCENTRATES POWER INTO THE HANDS OF A FEW, ON THE OTHER NOTHING IS GETTING DONE. IN THE COMING WEEKS A VERY IMPORTANT ISSUE WILL BE DEALT WITH BY COUNCIL. A NEW BY-LAW TO REVISE GARBAGE COLLECTION RATES HAS BEEN WRITTEN BY THE INFRASTRUCTURE COMMITTEE. IT IS FLAWED, SERIOUSLY FLAWED! TO DATE, JUST AS I HAD WARNED AND YOU HAD MADE CLEAR YOU WANTED CHANGED IN THE ELECTION, ALL DISCUSSIONS LEADING TO THIS BY-LAW HAVE EITHER BEEN DONE AT THE COMMITTEE OR IN CAMERA LEVEL. STAFF TIME HAS BEEN SPENT AND THE BY-LAW IS READY TO MOVE FORWARD TO THE PUBLIC. YOU WILL NOT KNOW WHAT IS BEHIND THIS BY-LAW IF SOMEONE DOESN'T INFORM YOU. THE COMMITTEE HAS NO INTENTIONS OF INFORMING YOU AND WILL ONLY GIVE YOU THE INFORMATION THEY HAVE GATHERED TO SUPPORT THE SOLUTION BROUGHT FORWARD. I KNOW MY COLLEAGUES READ THIS BLOG SO LEST THEY REGRET... I'M NOT ABOUT TO LET THAT HAPPEN. STAY TUNED.