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County of Brant Councillor raises concerns regarding library project

CouncilCounty of Brant Councillor raises concerns regarding library project

County of Brant councillors received a notice of motion to reconsider a decision regarding the new library and Bawcutt Centre project during its regular council meeting on Tuesday, January 30, 2024.

Council held a lengthy discussion regarding the notice of motion to reconsider the library project, which was originally discussed this summer.

On June 27, 2023, the County of Brant council members voted to approve the following motion:

 “That the concept design for the Main Library and Bawcutt Centre be approved;

That this project be approved for construction, subject to site plan and zoning applications;

That staff be directed to authorize Collaborative Structures Limited (CSL) to issue requests for tender for the construction of the Main Library and Bawcutt Centre to prequalified contractors;

That $13,489,000 be included in the 2024 Capital Budget, with funding components from reserves, development charges, debt to be repaid by development charges and debenture as funding sources;

That the Steering Group transition to Fundraising Committee and begin fundraising efforts;

And that staff be directed to investigate parking opportunities on adjacent streets and present designs for Council consideration.”

During the June meeting, each clause was voted on separately and packaged as a whole.

During the meeting on January 30, Councillor John Bell was set to bring forward a notice of motion to reconsider the decision regarding Paris’ new library and Bawcutt Centre project. The motion was to notify council that the topic will come up for discussion at a later date, specifically a special council meeting to be held on Thursday, February 1, 2024.

Typically, when a notice of motion to reconsider is brought up, no discussion or debate on the topic is allowed to happen, however, David Bailey, Mayor for the County of Brant, allowed Bell the opportunity to speak about what “prompted him to put it on the agenda” before the motion was officially brought forward.

“Let me say I love the concept for this new main branch library, including the renovation of the Bawcutt Centre, but I’ve always worried about its affordability and the prioritization of this project over other calls for our County funding. Since June 2023, when council by a majority vote, agreed to a six-point motion, we’ve been confronted with the most challenging budget in council memory,” said Bell. “…With a potential for a ten to 13 per cent property tax increase this year and the prospect of large increases in coming years. We’re also reaching debt level limits, which are primarily driven by funding large capital projects, such as the proposed new library,” said Bell. “Staff have prepared a draft of a long-term financial plan that further questions affordability, and that draft does not yet include all the calls on the municipality, which will further compound our financial challenges.”

Councillor Robert Chambers, called for a point of order (an intervention by a member who believes that the rules or customary procedures of the council chambers has been incorrectly applied or overlooked during the proceedings) twice before Bell could finish.

“According to procedural bylaw, a motion to reconsider is not debatable, so you cannot explain why you want a motion to reconsider,” said Chambers. “That is exactly what the councillor is doing, so it is contrary to the procedural bylaw and it’s contrary to the requirement that no debate is allowed on a motion to reconsider.”

Mayor Bailey was firm in his decision to allow Bell to talk, stating that the motion was not technically brought forward yet.

“No motion to reconsider has been brought forward and I have consulted with the Clerks, and I do know what we can do,” said Bailey. “…If you have a problem with the way I’m handling it, you can do something beyond this meeting, but Councillor Bell is going to wrap it up right now, then he’s going to bring his motion forward and then we’re going to have another council meeting another day.”

Bell continued on with his reasoning.

“I believe it’s in the best interest of our community, and particularly its taxpayers, to step back and reconsider the approval to construct a new main branch library in the light of growing financial challenges,” he said. “It’s my understanding that the motion will be held in a Special Council meeting on Thursday at 3:00 p.m. following our scheduled Committee of the Whole meeting to address the budget.”

Before council could move on to the next topic, Chambers once again called his third point of order, saying it’s too late to reconsider the June motion.

“It is very clear to me, according to our procedural bylaw, that the motion to reconsider is not allowable. That’s the result of rule number 44 in the procedure bylaw, which says, ‘if the action approved in the motion cannot be reversed, the motion cannot be reconsidered.’ It’s my understanding, and this is one of the reasons why reconsideration should occur in time proximity to the original motion, if an action is carried out as a result of the motion, then you cannot reconsider it,” he said. “In other words, if the bell is rung, you can’t unring it. If Council passes a motion to close the book, you can reconsider it up until the time the book is closed, but once the book is closed, you can’t reconsider it because the action has been carried out.”

He continued to explain what he meant by it being too late to go back.

“The operative clause, that says ‘staff be directed to authorize Collaborative Structures Limited (CSL) to issue requests for tender for the construction of the Main Library and Bawcutt Centre to pre-qualified contractors,’ it’s my understanding that that has occurred,” said Chambers. “The bell has been rung, the auction occurred, you cannot reconsider the action as it has occurred. …Another problem with multi-operative clause resolutions is, if one has been acted on, then the reconsideration motion is on the motion in its entirety, and you cannot unring the bell, you cannot un-direct staff to do something that was directed and they have done.”

Alysha Dyjach, Clerk and Director of Council Services, said that she respectfully disagreed.

“In terms of my interpretation of that section, I do respectfully disagree. In my view, the entire clause, and in particular, that one that you discussed, ‘that staff be directed to authorize CSL to issue requests for tender.’ The question with regards to application of section 44. The question is, does the fact that staff have directed them mean we can’t go back? Or is it the fact that we’ve directed them to issue the request for tender? The request for tender hasn’t been issued yet, therefore, we can reverse the decision. In my interpretation, the wording of the word ‘reverse’ infers that the action has been carried out, because it doesn’t say undo, it says ‘reverse,’ so the action has been done but cannot be changed. In my opinion, the motion is in order because all of those [clauses] have not been taken to the point where it cannot be reversed.”

Chambers was firm about his view on the process.

“Again, if they [clauses] have been done, if the bell has been rung, it can’t be reversed. The action is that staff were directed to authorize collaborative structures, and staff did that, according to my understanding. If they did that, they can’t undo it because they did it,” said Chambers. “They rang the bell, it’s been rung and they did it. …Clearly, that motion cannot be reconsidered, because you cannot un-direct if you’ve directed. It’s just a function of time elapsing, and actions being carried out to carry out the will of council. In this case, that direction was given eight months ago, and it has been carried out. Keep in mind that you’re dealing with a million-dollar contract.”

The conversation was eventually ended and the motion to reconsider took place on Thursday, February 1, 2024 at 3:00 p.m. to further discuss.

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