St. John’s mayor attends 7.8% of standing committee meetings

But system is supposed to work that way at city hall, O’Keefe says

Daniel MacEachern dmaceachern@thetelegram.com
Published on March 9, 2016
St. John’s City Hall, where some council members attend more standing committee meetings than others.
Telegram file photo

Since the 2013 municipal election, St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe has attended seven out of 90 standing committee meetings.

According to committee attendance records for meetings up to earlier this month, provided by the city’s communications department, the mayor has attended one planning and development committee meeting (out of 26), and six meetings of the economic development, tourism and public engagement committee (out of 11).

He has not attended any of 20 finance and adminstration committee meetings, 17 community services and housing meetings, 13 public works meetings, or three audit and accountability meetings. The police and traffic committee was only recently elevated to standing status.

The mayor’s 7.8 per cent participation rate is the lowest of the 11 council members, but O’Keefe said that’s the way the system is supposed to work.

“What we have are 10 councillors, and the office of the mayor,” he said. “The practice has been, really, for councillors to handle the committees and the office of the mayor, whoever he or she may be, to handle the duties and responsibilities of the mayor’s office.”

The key is to keep everyone informed on the issues, said O’Keefe, who added councillors can sit on as many committees as they like, and have traditionally been expected to serve on two.

“Some sit on more, and some sit on less,” he said, noting part of his duty as mayor is to chair the meetings of the committee of the whole, which meets for budget discussions.

He said he sits on the economic development committee as part of his duties as chairman of Cruise St. John’s, and he also sits on the Rotary Sunshine Park committee.

“In the run of every day, in terms of carrying out the duties and responsibility of the mayor’s office, my day doesn’t coincide with committee times. My schedule is based on what happens routinely every day,” he said. “So I’m involved with, on a daily basis, engaging with the staff and the public on a variety of issues, meeting with senior executive staff and city manager on issues that come up in the run of the day, a lot of internal and external correspondence, and then a whole variety of outside appearances that involve public contact, that involves speaking engagements and things like that.”

Coun. Bruce Tilley leads council, having missed just six of 90 standing committees meetings, a 93.3 per cent attendance rate, since the election.

Tilley — since last fall chairman of audit and accountability after a stint co-chairing economic development, as well as sitting on several others — said he feels committees are where council work gets done.

“It gives you an overview on what’s going on with the city, and it gives you an overview on how you can help constituents,” he said. “The way I work is I’m not out in the media whatsoever. That’s the way I’ve been all my life. The way I work is hard on committees. I’m a guy who’s behind the scenes, working away.”

Among councillors, Coun. Dave Lane edges out Coun. Art Puddister — with one fewer meeting — for the lowest attendance rate.

But Lane — who has a full-time job that often requires lunch meetings, which is generally when standing committee meetings are held — also serves on several advisory committees, including the heritage committee (his attendance: 94.4 per cent of 18 meetings) and the downtown joint committee (of which he hasn’t missed any of six meetings).

“The thing with standing committees is we get full reports, agendas beforehand. I generally will talk to a councillor about something that seems to impact what I consider to be my portfolio,” he said, citing economic development, tourism and public engagement.

Downtown joint committee meetings have, for the past year and a half, occurred at the same time as finance committee meetings, he said, but have recently been changed, partly because meetings for the 2017 budget are being piggybacked onto the end of finance committee meetings.

“Standing committee meetings are important, but the way I’ve viewed it is they’re led by a committee member who’s under that portfolio, and we discuss them before and after council. So it’s something I have eyes on at all times,” he said. “It’s harder to get eyes on the other (non-standing) committees, so I’ve got Downtown St. John’s — one of the most important files for me is the Water Street (infrastructure) project. So I chair what’s called the liaison committee for the Water Street project, and that’s been a heavy focus for me.”

 

Overall standing committee attendance

Member            Meetings attended (out of 90)    Percentage

Coun. Bruce Tilley                    84                        93.3%

Coun. Danny Breen                  64                        71.1%

Coun. Tom Hann                       62                        68.9%

Coun. Sandy Hickman              55                         61.1%

Coun. Bernard Davis                47*                        58.0%

Coun. Jonathan Galgay            46                         51.1%

Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth    41                         45.6%

Coun. Wally Collins                   33                         36.7%

Coun. Art Puddister                   29                         32.2%

Coun. Dave Lane                      28                         31.1%

Mayor Dennis O’Keefe                7                           7.8%

*Out of possible 81 before Davis elected to House of Assembly

 

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com, Twitter: @DanMacEachern