Below is our rudimentary guide to navigating your way through City Hall.
CONTACT THE MAYOR, MEMBERS OF COUNCIL and CITY ADMINISTRATION ONLINE
Members of Council
- Contact your Ward Councillor via the City website’s online contact page here.
- Contact the City by calling 311 or by completing an online contact form here.
THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO COUNCIL AND COMMITTEE MEETINGS
If you’ve never made a presentation to Council or one of its Standing Policy Committees, we’ve done our best to anticipate your questions and answer them here.
City Hall is huge. Where do I go?
Council meetings take place in Council Chambers, located to the left of the escalators in the main atrium at City Hall. On rare occasions when not all members of the public can fit into Council Chambers, citizens will be directed to an overflow room where they can watch the proceedings on a video screen.
Standing Policy Committee (SPC) meetings – Community & Protective Services, Utilities & Corporate Services, Transportation & Transit, Planning & Urban Development – take place in the Engineering Traditions Room, lower level, Old City Hall (the sandstone building between the C-train platform and the Municipal Building).
How do I know when the meeting will take place? Can I get an agenda?
There is a calendar on the City’s website showing all Council, Standing Policy Committee and Special Committee Meeting dates for the year.
The agenda for a particular meeting is set a few days ahead and is available for review and download on the City’s website. If you are unable to attend in person, this is where you will also find a link to a live video feed of the meeting and where you can return later to review minutes or archived video of the meeting.
Can I speak to any item on the agenda at Council or Committee Meetings?
No, citizens can’t speak to any and all items on the agendas. Members of the public can speak to any item at Standing Policy Committee meetings but when it comes to Council meetings, citizens can only speak to items that fall under the heading of Public Hearings. These Council meetings are designated as Combined Public Hearing Council Meetings on the Council calendar.
I’ve heard meetings can take hours. Do I have to sit there all day?
Depending on the agenda, citizens can sometimes have a long wait until the item in which they are interested comes up. This is when a copy of the agenda and the live video feed can be invaluable for tracking the day’s progress, allowing you to choose the appropriate time to head to City Hall. You can also follow and/or query progress via the #yyccc hashtag on twitter.
Citizens are free to come and go throughout the day to observe the proceedings. You don’t have to camp out all day but if you do, you’ll need to step out for food, drink and cell phone calls, none of which are permitted inside the Committee room or Council Chambers. There are set breaks at lunch, mid-afternoon and suppertime with meetings running from 9:30am until 9:30pm unless Committee/Council members vote to extend the meeting. There are rules of decorum that members of the public are expected to follow: wait your turn; be respectful; no heckling, outbursts, applause, etc from the audience. Security guards will remove citizens who fail to adhere to these rules.
I’ve never been to a meeting before. How will I know when it’s time for public presentations?
When the appropriate agenda item is introduced, City Administration will first make a presentation to Council. The Mayor or Committee Chair will then invite citizens to share their input: those in favour followed by those opposed. Sometimes people line up if they want to speak early, others wait and, when ready, stand and approach the microphone as the current speaker is finishing. It’s all very civilized. If there is a large audience, there may be a sign-up sheet introduced for those who want to speak and the Chair will then call speakers according to the list. But even if you have not signed up, the Chair must always make a final invitation to the audience before closing the public hearing. In fact, they will usually ask “Is there any other member of the public who wishes to speak?” twice before declaring the public hearing closed.
I don’t want to stand out by being unprepared the first time. Can you tell me what happens next?
First, remember that every person who presents to Council or Committee once did so for the first time and they were likely a bit nervous, too. That’s why we want you to be well prepared.
When in Council Chambers, you will step up to a podium with a microphone. When appearing in front of a Committee, you will be seated at a desk with a microphone. In both cases you will be asked to introduce yourself before you begin. You may distribute materials to go with our presentation but you first must ask permission of the Chair. Strictly speaking you’re expected to bring 35 copies but there will be only 15 Members of Council present at max – just sayin’. You can use audio-visual equipment as provided but we recommend you check first with City Clerk’s office at 403-268-5861 to confirm what is available.
How long am I permitted to speak? Can I ask questions?
Each and every citizen with an interest in an agenda item may take up to 5 minutes to speak to council/committee. We highly recommend that you prepare in advance and time yourself at least once to be sure you can get your entire message across in the allotted 5 minutes. Presenters are occasionally permitted extra time but you should never count on it, especially when there are many people waiting to present. Don’t worry about keeping track of time at the meeting because when you come to the microphone you will see three lights in front of you. A green light will come on when you commence your presentation, a yellow light will come on when there is one minute remaining of your allotted five minutes and a red light will come on when your time is up. If you keep going after the red light, you may be unceremoniously cut-off in mid-sentence, hence the recommended practice run-through ahead of time…
After you finish your presentation, you may or may not be asked questions by council/committee members. Citizens are only permitted to make a presentation and answer questions, not ask questions themselves. Although it can be daunting to make such a presentation and have members of council ask you questions, you have every right to politely decline to answer questions which you feel are inappropriate or outside the scope of what you presented.
What happens after the public presentations?
After all members of the public have been given an opportunity to speak, City Administration will return to answer questions from members of Council. Each member of Council or Committee with questions will be given an opportunity to question administration staff. This can take quite some time. Once everyone has asked their questions, there will be a “debate” which may conjure an image of Members of Council speaking back and forth, questioning or challenging each other. But what actually takes place is usually very formal and provides an opportunity for each to summarize their observations, concerns and outstanding questions prior to a vote taking place on any recommendations presented by administration.
Is my input really important to Members of Council?
Yes! Each one of us has a right to attend Committee or Council meetings and observe or speak, according to our comfort level. We strongly recommend that you speak to what you know and from your own unique experience or point of view. Speaking to Council comes naturally to some and is intimidating to others but it’s important – and even exhilarating – to exercise our right to participate in meetings where decisions are made that shape our collective future.
I have a question you didn’t answer here. Now what?
For further information, see the City’s Publication Communicating with Calgary City Council and Its Committees or contact the City Clerks Office directly.