Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees have rejected a consultant’s call to cut the speaking time for public delegations to five minutes as part of wide-ranging changes to their governance practices.
Trustees on Monday agreed to maintain the existing 10-minute limit despite setting a five-minute cap on themselves.
Other changes will no longer require delegations to submit the content of their presentations in writing beforehand and require just two days’ notice to appear before trustees – down from the previous 10.
Agendas will also now be posted on the board’s website five days before Monday meetings, rather than the Friday before, to give more notice of issues to be discussed.
An existing limit of three delegations per meeting remains, but anyone denied the chance to speak or unable to attend can submit written comments that will be distributed to trustees for the meeting.
Board chair Tim Simmons said he believes the changes, expected to get final approval on March 25, will make a big difference in how the board operates.
“I can’t wait until it passes at board and then we can try it on for size and see how it drives,” he said.
“These new governance rules will make the board more transparent, will move our agendas along more efficiently and will provide better options for public participation or public comments.”
The changes stem from a review launched last year in an effort to clarify rules and avoid controversies over closed-door decisions, like one that excluded Westmount from a high school closure review.
They now set out three categories of matters voted on in private sessions.
The first are those never made public for legal reasons, like student expulsion hearings or personnel matters. Public minutes will simply provide a generic description of the matter dealt with, but not the details or decision.
The second covers decisions that must be made public but aren’t be harmed by a short delay in full disclosure, like the hiring of a new senior manager. Trustees may initially only report that they’ve made a decision, but withhold the person’s name to allow unsuccessful candidates to be notified.
In the third category are decisions that must be made public immediately following a closed session, like the sale of a school or board property.
Only the decisions – and not what individual trustees said or how they voted in private – will be disclosed when ratified in public session.
Other changes give trustees more leeway to add items and individual resolutions, known as notices of motion, to the agenda.
To help cut down on often-marathon meetings, regular monitoring reports, like on the latest enrolment data, will be included in the agenda package for information and only be discussed if a majority of trustees wishes to do so.
Trustees will also only be able to speak once on the same issue and for up to five minutes. There were no previous limits at the committee level and guidelines at board meetings were routinely flouted.