News / Calgary

Calgary council could seek stand-in speaker for meetings at $400 per hour

Administration has prepared a report for information, but council could opt to move on changes to how meetings are chaired

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has chaired nearly every council meeting since he took office.

Elizabeth Cameron/ for Metro

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has chaired nearly every council meeting since he took office.

OK council, would you rather have all meetings chaired by Mayor Naheed Nenshi (alternatively, his successor), or a stand-in outside speaker for a cool $170,000 salary? That’s approximately $400 per hour.

On Tuesday, councillors will hear the city’s report on how to optimize council meetings; sessions we know can stretch out for days. Appetite on the council floor has been to make meetings faster, and all fingers are pointing at the chair to get it done.

In consultation with Eli Mina, a registered parliamentarian, the report details three options for how meetings can go down: mayor as chair, councillor as chair, or an outsider chair. He even details an option to combine any of the options depending on how controversial the meeting is.

Although having a stand in comes at a cost, Mina wrote that having an outsider chair could bring returns on investment over and above the waste and liability of having a mayor as chair.

But municipalities with speakers don’t always fork out cash for stand-ins.

Sandra Bussin, a former Toronto councillor was their first speaker in 2006, and she said moving to have one official move the meeting along helped keep consistency. Councillors serve their entire terms as speakers, so long as they’re not replaced, and lined up are deputy speakers in case the primary speaker is absent.

“I chaired for most of the meetings, so in terms of rulings and corporate memory on certain issues, you had that background,” Bussin said. “The speaker could vote, the speaker could speak on an issue, but I tended not to, unless it was something about my own ward…so that I appeared to have a certain level of neutrality.”

She said their mayor rarely spoke at meetings because of engagements.

In Calgary, Naheed Nenshi presides over most meetings, according to his staff he’s only missed one council meeting – the one that Coun. Evan Woolley chaired last week.

The city’s own report suggests there are ways to curb ineffective meetings and guess what? It’s by following rules already in place such as not letting councillors or members of the public speak for more than five minutes and staying off cell phones or other devices for “activities unrelated to meeting decision making.

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart chaired the sub-committee to investigate better meeting practices.

“In my 17 years…our meetings have never been longer,” said Colley-Urquhart. “Especially in the past seven years with Naheed and his style of chairing – he’s very collaborative and inclusive…even if it’s off track. It’s a collegiate leadership style.”

She said they spend time in-camera where councillors will sometimes do outside work because they are so far off base, it’s ridiculous.

Her opinion has never been to seek a third-party stand in, but to vote on and elect a councillor to fill those shoes. 

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