Rights and responsibilities
The general powers of a municipality
A municipality generally has the same powers as a company with several restrictions and differences in substance and in the manner in which it is entitled to contract, issue contracts, acquire or dispose of property. Examples:
- article 28 and subsequent, Law on cities and towns, L.R.Q., c. C-19;
- article 4 and subsequent, Law on municipal competencies, L.R.Q., c. C-47.1.
What distinguishes a municipality from a company are the various powers that it has, including:
- its ability to pass bylaws that have the force of law on the residents;
- its ability to enforce order and peace, to arrest and imprison individuals who break the law and to pass judgement on these individuals;
- its ability to expropriate property, lots, for the purposes of its competencies
The residents and taxpayers are like the shareholders in the municipality. Its management are the members of the council and the individuals responsible for various areas that the council nominates and mandates to act.
A municipality only speaks officially through resolution or bylaw from its municipal council, duly adopted and put into effect;
- the adoption of a bylaw must be preceded by a notice of motion;
- article 356, Law on cities and towns;
- - the adoption of a city planning bylaw (zoning and construction standards, etc.) must be preceded by a notice of motion and a draft;
- article 124 and subsequent, Law on development and city planning, L.R.Q., c. A-19.1.
The mayor is the head of the municipal administration and has the power to supervise and examine the entire administration;
- article 52 and subsequent, Law on cities and towns;
- the mayor can incur, without previous authorization, various representation expenses (travel, meals, etc.) in the course of their work for the municipality.
The municipal councillors
The municipal councillors do not have the legal right to take decisions except when they are sitting together, with a quorum, in public session of the municipal council, in the council chambers. They can however sit on commissions or committees of the council when nominated by resolution of the council to do so.
Like for the mayor, the members of the council must declare the pecuniary interests that they have in the municipality when they come into office and each year during their mandate;
- like the managers, they must not place themselves in a conflict of interest situation, whether between those of the municipality and their own interests or those of one of their family or friends;
- like the managers, they cannot receive for their work at the municipality, directly or indirectly, any amount of money or other form of benefit other than the remuneration provided for in the law or in their employment contract;
- article 303 and subsequent, Law on elections and referendums in municipalities, L.R.Q., c. E-2.2; article 122 and subsequent, criminal code
- they do not benefit from any parliamentary immunity when they speak in public, in the council chambers or elsewhere;
- to be able to incur expenses or representation fees, the municipal councillors must be previously authorized by resolution of the municipal council
The director general
The director general reports to the municipal council and has authority over all of the municipal employees as well as over all human resource, material or financial questions.
- article 113 and subsequent, Law on cities and towns.
Neither the mayor, nor the municipal council, nor any person at the municipality can authorize or make a disbursement for the city without being assured, in advance, that the budget contains sufficient funds and credit.
- article 477 and subsequent, Law on cities and towns
- Each year, before December 31 (or before January 31 during an election year), the council must adopt a balanced budget that contains the revenues as well as the expenses.
- article 474, Law on cities and towns
Every year they must also adopt a three year capital expenditure plan that identifies its major projects and capital expenditure expenses
- article 473, Law on cities and towns
Awarding of contracts
In matters of purchasing of goods and services, including construction or professional services, the municipality’s contracts must be authorized by council resolution and follow the prescriptions of the law:
- article 573 and subsequent, Law on cities and towns :
- contract of less than $25,000, discretion of the council (purchasing policy);
- contract of $25,000 and more, but less than $100,000, required to contact at least 2 suppliers;
- contract of more than $100,000, required to hold a call for public tenders.
The municipal council meetings are public and take place in the council chambers, the first and third Monday of each month, at 7:30 p.m. They may be preceded by a plenary meeting (public or private) either the same day or on the previous day, depending on the council’s wishes.
- article 318 and subsequent, Law on cities and towns
The council’s commissions and committees
The meetings of the council’s commission and committees are not public. They provide the elected officials and representatives of the various municipal departments with an opportunity to submit questions and projects, debate amongst themselves and make recommendations and draft resolutions or bylaws that are then placed on the agenda of a council meeting. The decisions taken at a commission or committee have no legal effect:
- unless it is a decision or action that is purely administrative; or
- before having been made the subject of a resolution or a bylaw adopted at the municipal council and put into effect;
- article 70 and subsequent, Law on cities and towns.
In general, the municipality’s documents or information are public with some exceptions, including:
- article 114.2, Law on cities and towns; article 9 and subsequent, Law on access to the documents of public organizations and on the protection of personal information, L.R.Q., c. A-2.1;
- documents or information that identifies an individual in particular;
- financial documents or information that could affect the credit or financial situation of the municipality if made public;
- some reports studied by the council but not presented to the municipal council;
- police reports;
documents or information concerning a legal case or file pending before a court;
- documents or information belonging to a third party, except with their consent.
This is a brief overview of the municipal administration of Châteauguay!
Paul G. Brunet, m.a.p.