A community member who approached council about moving a meeting time has sparked debate over whether holding early afternoon meetings are preventing a more diverse range of people from participating on Gravenhurst committees–in particular younger, working residents.
Micheal Wayling, a Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee (MHC) member since 2014, spoke to council at the Feb.14 Committee of the Whole meeting. and for majority has been chair. He said the MHC has had nine citizen members and has been meeting every second Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. However, he was surprised to discover last month the committee’s members had been reduced to six people and the start time had been changed to 3 p.m.
“In my experience, the Town has been very good at alerting us if there is anything on an upcoming agenda that would affect MHC. Apparently, these changes occurred back in August 2022 and we weren’t alerted as to what was on the agenda and nobody from the Committee was invited, ” said Wayling, who has acted as the MHC’s chair for years. He said he went back to look at the minutes to understand the reasoning behind the changes but only found an expired video link.
“We have repeatedly been complimented by members of council for being a committee that gets things done and is the busiest. I’m not sure how reducing our membership by 33% is going to help our productivity. More importantly, I would like to think that as a town, we want to encourage as many people as possible to connect with and contribute to the town, which leads me to ask why are we discriminating against people who are employed, like younger people, with younger ideas, and fresher and more modern approaches to things. The problem is…the majority of them work. Do we want all committees to be populated by rickety old folks like me, all with a similar age, similar life experience, resulting in the same points of view? Shouldn’t we be encouraging diversity in participants, diverse experiences, diverse points of view, diverse ages and approaches, which would result in a broader, more inclusive, more balanced, more productive approach to the business at hand?” Wayling asked.
Wayling illustrated his point with the case of one of MHC’s new members. The member, who was not named, “wanted to connect with the town…she responded to the call for committee members.” Wayling said on the application form, one of the questions asked ‘are you available for meetings during business hours, Monday to Friday, 8:30- 4:30.?’ She answered no and further elaborated that she was only available for meetings that would begin after 4p.m. “Despite her answer… she was recommended to council for membership and it was approved,” he explained.
Wayling said she then received correspondence that her application had been successful and she was “elated,” until she realized that all meetings are conducted at a time she specifically indicated she could not participate. When querying if the meeting time could be moved, Wayling said the message that she received was that if she was unable to participate due to other commitments, it was recommended she resign. She was “understandably surprised,” considering that she had been clear about her availability back in November and was still recommended for membership and questions why she should have to resign.
“And I don’t want her to resign either,” Wayling said. We’ve seen a reduction in membership by 33% and I don’t want it to go down by a 44% loss. I would suggest if we are sincere about wanting a robust representation of Gravenhurst citizens participating in our committees, we need to make those meetings accessible to the greatest majority of townspeople.” He then respectfully requested that council return the start time of MHC’s meetings to 4:30p.m., to make the meetings “accessible to all ages and people from all walks of life.”
Mayor Heidi Lorenz responded by saying this was possibly “oversight from your council representative from last term. They should have reported back to you. That is part of the role of serving as a council rep. Hopefully I’m making that message clear to this council, that your committee that you are serving on is aware of what’s going on with the Town.” Lorenz apologized to Wayling on behalf of the Town.
Councillor Strength asked Wayling if MHC has had a meeting yet. Wayling said they did on Jan. 10 but without enough members able to attend, it was not to quorum.
Coun. Johnston asked if anyone could explain why the meeting time had been moved to 3p.m. in the first place. Mayor Lorenz, who served as deputy mayor on the previous council, said that they had undertaken an “extensive review of all committees to see what worked for whom, we brought some recommendations forward.” In terms of membership, she said some committees “were brought down just for manageability…I think we can all agree that sometimes there are just too many people around the table.”
She also said that there can be associate members, who want to participate but don’t want to be part of the committee and are not included in the six voting members. She said they had not received any negative feedback about the start time and that she could assure Wayling that there was “plenty of discussion at this table and there was no mention of the time not being appropriate at the time.”
A motion to return the meeting start time to 4:30 was read. Mayor Lorenz reminded council that if the motion passes, this could not be revisited until next year. “I am not a fan of changing a town-wide policy to accommodate one person. That is governing to one person, right?'”
Coun. Jorgensen said that he would argue it’s not governing to one, but that considering other members have stated on their applications that later hours or evenings worked for them, “it’s not really reacting to just the one person, but a group of people that we are looking at: people who work.”
Council passed the motion.
The next council meeting is on March 21, 2023 at 3p.m. and can be viewed on the Town of Gravenhurst’s YouTube channel.
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