Today’s Poll

Review process for city staff decisions given definite time frame

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
May 20th, 2021

You can’t fight city hall.

But you do have 30 days in which to file for a review of a city staff decision if it is perceived as unfair and impractical.

Under the Administrative Fairness Policy — first established in 2002 — an amendment relating to the appeal around city staff decisions and the avenue of review was passed by city council, adding in a time frame in which the review will need to be resolved, among other things.

Despite the defined change, there was a brief move on council to extend the complaint window further.

“I thought the 30 days was too tight to have a decision manifest into the world and then generate a complaint of some sort,” said Coun. Keith Page during the regular council (online) meeting Tuesday, May 11.

“It seemed like 30 days was far too tight if someone actually wanted to bring a complaint that dealt with an administrative fairness issue.”

The timeframe issue was talking about turnaround time and the time frame for reversing a decision, noted city manager of Corporate Services, Sarah Winton, and peeling back legislation was an arduous process.

“Once we have taken action it is very difficult for staff to backpedal or change a decision, and so it certainly would then come to council as a request for a staff decision to change,” she said.

“Thirty days may seem quick, but it is from the time of the complaint issue to when they file a complaint and trigger the administrative process.”

Although the policy has been streamlined and amended, not all of the city decisions are eligible for review under it.

“The amended policy presented, does not change the process in any material way,” wrote the deputy corporate officer, Gabriel Bouvet-Boisclair. “Rather, the revised policy clarifies some ambiguities, offers additional details about the review process and ensures that the policy conforms with applicable legislation.”

However, Page offered up a motion dealing in language communicating that extensions will be provided if reasonably supported. The motion was not supported but the amended policy first proposed was.

The Administrative Fairness Policy provides a formal and fair procedure for those affected by staff decisions to seek to have those decisions reviewed and potentially changed, the city staff report read.

“Council has delegated various decision-making authority to different levels of staff and it is important that the city maintain a clear and fair policy allowing for those decisions to be reviewed and revisited, where appropriate,” Caldecott wrote.

Policy process

The current policy generally lays out the process as follows:

  • an informal complaint is made to staff and staff attempt to resolve the matter;
  • if the matter is not resolved, a formal complaint is made for review by the city manager;
  • if the complainant is not satisfied following review by the city manager, the  matter is placed before council; and
  • council is presented with information regarding the decision from both staff and the complainant and is then able to uphold or change the decision as it sees fit.

Source: City of Nelson

The existing policy covers the time frame a decision for review is held at the staff level before it is escalated to council, and that such review would take place at a closed meeting. This contravenes the Community Charter as the review of a decision itself should not automatically take place in a closed meeting.

“But, rather, (it) would need to concern an issue as set out in Section 90 of the Community Charter that would allow it to be placed in-camera,” the report noted.

This has also been clarified in the amended policy.

Other notable changes include what should be included in a formal complaint and also provides that a review process must be initiated within 30 days of a decision being made.

In addition, the policy is available upon request to members of the public, explained Caldecott.

“Ultimately, this is an important policy when review of a decision is sought, but the policy is not frequently relied upon as most complaints can be resolved without escalating the matter beyond an informal complaint,” she wrote in the report.

Application

The policy applies to all decisions made by staff and non-council committees.

What is not included in the policy are decisions “subject to a statutorily prescribed appeal process, or those that are not eligible for review per applicable legislation or regulation.”

These include decisions by council, the board of variance, the subdivision approving officer and decisions made pursuant to the City of Nelson Hydro Electrical Bylaw, the Water and Sewer Rates Bylaw and the Property Taxation Bylaw.

Also not open to review of decisions are those outside the jurisdiction of the City of Nelson.

 

Categories: General

Other News Stories

Opinion