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Committee blisters Coun. Farkas motions on expenses, attendance

Calgary city councillors scolded one of their own for bringing forth two new motions on work that was already underway in one form or another.

Coun. Jeromy Farkas had two notices of motion – one put forth as urgent business – at Tuesday’s Priorities and Finance Committee (PFC), and while made it through to council, the other was scrapped and described as duplicative by fellow councillors.

Farkas had included a notice of motion to create an attendance system for city council and the other urgent notice was to create rules around expenses at Federation of Canadian Municipalities meetings, in light of the Calgary Herald stories on Coun. Joe Magliocca’s expenses.

FCM Expenses

Coun. Evan Woolley initially debated that this motion wasn’t urgent business because work had already been mandated through the Coordinating Committee of the Councillors’ Office (CCCO) to address this issue back in 2018.

 “We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for CCCO to bring back what is fundamentally the exact same piece of work… where is that work, why hasn’t it been done and why can’t it just wait for CCCO to do it?” Woolley asked.

“This doesn’t to me, fit the merits of being urgent as we have defined that.”

Woolley said they need to wait for the work that’s been asked for instead of taking up time with the “topical subject of the day.”

Farkas argued that with upcoming bookings that needed to be made for FCM meetings, it was important to get this issue before council.

“It’s important for councillors to know this sooner rather than later,” Farkas said.

He also suggested there was an apparent deadlock at CCCO over bringing any work forward.

“The way I would describe my personal view is that there’s a difference of opinion at the committee level,” Farkas said, noting he would circulate an email from the office manager to other councillors as the content was tied in with an in-camera meeting.

“I would not otherwise bring this to committee or straight to council if otherwise I felt that there was an alternative to be able to break that deadlock.”

In the end, PFC members allowed it on the agenda and then later passed it through for council’s review.

Attendance motion meets similar opposition

The role of the PFC is to vet notices of motion to ensure the appropriate work has been done before they get to council.

Coun. Woolley once again took issue with Coun. Farkas’ work on the file. He said read the notice of motion, but just received the technical checklist that accompanied it – including an apparent lacklustre accounting of the resource it might take the city to enact the new attendance system.

The idea was to record the attendance of councillors, but also to have it go back to 2017.

“So, in our role, to review a technical checklist, and the technical checklist is two, four sentences. I guess I struggle with how this body is supposed to do this work effectively when we just get it,” Woolley said.

Then the question of work already being done on electronic council voting arose.

City clerk Laura Kennedy said they currently have three people working on the electronic voting initiative and should they approve this motion, at least one person would have to be moved off that file and onto the Farkas one.

“This would require us to re-evaluate and reassign somebody to do this work, which would impact our ability to deliver,” Kennedy told committee members.

Kennedy said it would take a person three-to-four months to complete the work being asked and estimated the cost at $20,000.

After further similar debate, councillors defeated having this notice of motion move on to council.

Debate doesn’t die with motion

Coun. Farkas questioned whether the motion could still be brought back with changes that other councillors articulated during the meeting.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra interjected.

“This has taken time and money on work that’s already either underway or should be underway, and that you have a direct role in and when you bring notices of motion that are incomplete and haven’t done the actual work and your staff is doing work tracking attendance, which is important to you – it’s coming. It’s coming in a much more effective way,” Carra said.

“So, I guess my response to you is when you bring things forward, please do not waste council’s time, do not waste administration’s time. Do not suck up all the oxygen in the room because there are very important things that need to be done.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi logged the final word, agreeing that this is the place for the technical review of a notice of motion. He said Farkas’ work failed on three areas: Duplication of work already happening, does it contravene or contradict current council direction, or take enormous resources to do it.

“I think that this motion, my opinion, is that it actually failed on all three,” Nenshi said.