Municipal Delegation of Powers or Duties
A municipal council can delegate its powers, duties and functions to a council member, a council committee, an officer or employee, or to another body established by council.
Delegation allows the delegated person or body to conduct detailed and focused consideration of the operation or administration of a service or function. Delegation also allows council to focus on the broader and longer-term needs of the municipality, for example, service policies.
Successfully delegating its powers, can enable council to focus and streamline its agenda and staff can be empowered and assigned more routine responsibilities of councils.
The broad authority to delegate is balanced with accountability to the public by having specific limitations on delegation and, in certain cases, reconsideration mechanisms for those decisions made by a delegated person or body.
There are specific limitations under the Community Charter on the delegation of power because it is the municipal council that is directly accountable to the public for its decisions. Certain decision-making authority cannot be delegated such as a power or duty:
- That can only be exercised by bylaw
- Established by legislation that the council:
- Gives its approval or consent to,
- Makes recommendations on, or
- Accepts an action, decision or other matter (for example, municipal council can consent to participate in a regional district service, but cannot delegate making the decision to consent as it is a power established in the Local Government Act)
- Established by an enactment, for example, by statute or by bylaw, that the council hear an appeal or reconsider an action, decision or other matter
- To appoint or suspend a municipal officer, except where council has delegated that authority to the chief administrative officer
- To terminate the appointment of a municipal officer
Additionally, a power to impose a remedial action requirement under the Community Charter or the making of a bylaw cannot be delegated.
The Local Government Act also limits municipal delegation. For example, a council cannot delegate the authority to issue a development variance permit.
- Local Government Act, Part 6, Division 7 - Delegation of Board Authority
- Community Charter, Part 5, Division 6 - Delegation
Right to Reconsideration
A municipal council has the power to establish, by bylaw, a right to have the decisions of a delegated person or body reconsidered. Council will need to consider whether and where it wishes to provide this right, under what circumstances it would apply, and under what circumstances it would reverse a delegates decision.
If council reconsiders too many decisions, it will defeat the purpose of delegation. Reconsideration should not be used to selectively “undelegate” once a decision to delegate has been made. On the other hand, if the delegated person or body is making important decisions that will impact individuals or property rights, then an opportunity for reconsideration may be required to ensure fairness and political accountability.
If council chooses to exercise this right, or if the Community Charter or other legislation or a bylaw establishes a right of reconsideration, then council must pass a bylaw to establish procedures for reconsideration, including how a person may apply for reconsideration.
If there is a right to reconsideration, the delegate making the decision must advise the person subject to the decision of the right of reconsideration. The goal is to ensure that the person receives clear information in a timely manner, so that they can decide if and when to exercise their right.
The procedural rules that municipal councils must follow regarding delegation are:
- Most delegation must be made by bylaw adopted by a simple majority of votes cast. A delegation bylaw can be rescinded by a simple majority vote.
- Council can delegate a responsibility to hold a required hearing or representation proceeding, such as a public hearing for a rezoning, through a bylaw or resolution. Whether by bylaw or resolution, the delegation decision is made by a simple majority of the votes cast.
- Council may only delegate a responsibility to hold a hearing or a representation proceeding to one or more council members.
- Once delegation has been made, the council cannot overturn the decision of the delegated body. However, council may establish the right to have decisions by a delegate reconsidered by council.
- Municipalities must develop procedures for reconsideration where this right is established in legislation, or by bylaw. Reconsideration rights under legislation include the following:
- Decisions on tree cutting
- Cancellation or suspension of a business license
- Issuance of development permits
- Issuance of temporary commercial or industrial use permits
- Issuance of heritage alteration permits
Broad delegation authority is a real opportunity for a municipal council to streamline municipal decision-making. At the same time, it can be a challenge for municipal councils to develop delegation bylaws that serve both council and the delegated person or body effectively. Effective delegation bylaws establish clear lines of accountability and communication between council and the delegate.
A municipal council has broad authority to delegate to council members, council committees, officers and employees and other bodies created by the council. That could include ad hoc committees, commissions and advisory bodies created by council. Council should consider:
- What decisions should be delegated, and to whom
- The potential benefits and risks of delegating to the person or body
- How the public will perceive the proposed delegation
Type of Matters to Delegate
Some matters a municipal council may consider delegating include:
- Hearings: council hearings, for example, when amending a zoning bylaw or the Official Community Plan, may be appropriate for a council member who has responsibility for the area affected
- Representation proceedings: proceedings in which a person is entitled to make representations to council, for example, when council is proposing to discontinue a service, may be appropriate for a committee of council members
- Operational decisions: day-to-day decisions with respect to operation of a service, such as a recreation facility, may be appropriate for municipal officers and staff
- Operational policies: establishing policies and procedures to guide the operation of a service, for example, operation of an arena, may be appropriate for senior municipal staff
- Contracting: entering into contracts within constraints established by council may be appropriate for the chief administrative officer
- Expenditures: making expenditures within constraints established by council may be appropriate for senior municipal staff
Rules that Delegates Must Follow
Municipal councils should consider the terms and conditions to be included in a bylaw that delegates decision-making authority. Key considerations include:
- Budgets and the requirement to work within the budget assigned each year
- Financial management policies and the applicability of adopted policies:
- Procedures for tendering and purchasing, for example, all contracts over a certain amount must be put to tender
- Limits on spending authority, for example, the chief financial officer can spend up to $50,000 without council authorization
- Reporting responsibilities from the delegate to council and from council to the delegate, such as provision for:
- All relevant information necessary for making an informed decision to be received by the delegated person or body
- Regular reporting from the delegated person body to council
Objectives & Monitoring of Delegated Authority
A municipal council should establish objectives for the delegation. Possible objectives include:
- Increasing efficiency of service delivery
- Greater responsiveness to the clients of the service
- Improved functioning of council business
The delegation bylaw can lay out expectations for the delegated person or body and provide for regular review, to see if the objectives and expectations are being met. If they are not being met, council will need to determine the nature of the problem and determine its response. Council may consider:
- Greater restrictions on the delegate's authority
- Delegating to a different person or body
- Making the procedures to be followed by the delegate more clear
- Ending delegation of the power or duty and resuming council authority of it
Note that these choices need to be made generally in regard to the delegation authority for a certain type of matter (for example, hearings or contracting), not differently for each specific exercise of the delegated authority.