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Understanding the city council with City Clerk Wendy Cooke

Barrie City Council which is composed of mayor Jeff Lehman and ten councillors holds a lot of meetings such as general committee meeting, finance and corporate services committee meeting etc. There are other committees where Barrie residents are also members of. For example, the Town and Gown committee and Heritage Barrie Committee. You can watch these meetings live on the city’s official YouTube channel.  

But how do these different committees work together, how by-laws come into existence and how Barrie residents can get their voices heard by the city council? To get answers to these questions, we talked to Wendy Cooke. She is the City Clerk & Director of Legislative & Court Services. 

Barrie, like Toronto and Hamilton, is a single-tier municipality. Other type is two-tier. In a two-tier system, the upper tier is either a county or a regional municipality. A single-tier municipality undertakes all municipal responsibilities mentioned under the Municipal Act and other Provincial legislation. 

However, there are certain services such as “ambulance care, child and human services and social services, so that would be the social affordable housing and long term care,” Cooke said. Barrie provides Simcoe County a contribution to offer these services. For example, a Human Services Committee composed of the mayor, the deputy mayor and two councillors oversees the services provided by the county. 

There are different levels of participation and decision making in the city council. At the bottom are advisory committees that report to reference committees. “So those advisory committees would report up through the reference committees, to the general committee and then to council,” Cooke said. 

The lower level advisory committees are citizen based. They “also have representation by one or two members of council,” Cooke said. A few of the advisory committees are the Heritage Berrie Committee, Accessibility Advisory Committee, Active Transportation and Sustainability Advisory Committee, and Seniors Advisory Committee. Advisory committees report to the reference committees such as the Finance and Corporate Services Committee. A reference committee reports to the general committee that reports to the council. 

All residents of Barrie whether are permanent residents or came to Canada on a student or work visa are eligible to be a part of the advisory committee. Rob Meier, a member of the Town and Gown Committee, in a recent meeting recommended having more diverse and student representatives in the committee. Meier is also one of the founders of Barrie Community Media.

As the council conducts most of its business in public, Cooke is put on the spot by the nature of her work, which is to provide information and advice to the council. Cooke asks for a five minute break during a meeting if “there’s more technicality to an amendment,” she said. “The mayor is very kind and he usually allows me to do that.”

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