| Nov 16, 2006


Feature Article - November 16, 2006

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Feature Article - November 16, 2006

Lots of talk about change, but what does it all mean?

by Jeff Green

There will be new faces around council tables as the result of this week’s municipal elections. In our own readership area, through a combination of resignations, councillors running for head or deputy head of council, and incumbents being defeated, 16 of 27 councillors will be new.

Similarly, 4 of 6 heads of council have been replaced.

A number of veteran politicians have decided to move on, and the voters have made that same decision for several other veteran politicians.

A lot of the new people coming to councils will arrive with expectations that they can make dramatic changes and will find themselves constrained by the fiscal and political limitations that are common to all rural townships in this part of the world.

Amalgamation

Half of council and the mayor in South Frontenac are new; five of nine councillors and the mayor in Central Frontenac are new; as are four of seven councillors in North Frontenac These large-scale changes on councils are unprecedented in the short history of these nine-year-old townships.

The pressure to make council effective will be particularly telling on the newly minted mayors in South and Central Frontenac.

In South Frontenac Gary Davison campaigned on a platform of change. He wants to see the township move towards amalgamating all of the assets and services in each district.

On any other issue a mayor only has to cobble together a simple majority in order to push through even a large initiative; but in order to make amalgamation happen, Davison will probably have to convince each and every councillor to move in that direction, because at this time each and every councillor has a measure of authority over the budgets in their own districts.

If, to pick a thorny example, the mayor and the councillors from three districts were to agree that the Portland dump should serve the entire township, it would not just be a matter of passing a motion, winning it by a 7-2 margin, and assimilating the dump.

Somehow or other, the people of Portland district, as represented by their two councillors, would have to agree before this could happen. They wouldn’t have to like it, but they would have to agree.

This is why amalgamation is a long way off, and we will have to wait and see if Gary Davison can bring about the strategic plan that he says will be the precursor to the amalgamation plans that he campaigned on.

In terms of staff relations, Davison wants to see less, not more meddling in staff matters by council.

He notes that council has had to make changes in administrative staffing in the past term, which he said was “a tough thing to do, but it was necessary.” But he thinks those decisions are behind council now.

“If anything, we need to not interfere as much in the business of staff. We haven’t always let them do the job we hire them to do. I don’t think we have to look over them for every nickel and dime,” he said in an interview after the election. “After all, what did we hire them for?”

Unlike Davison in South Frontenac, Mayor-elect Janet Gutowski in Central Frontenac has made it clear that she is concerned with the way staff and council interact.

As a councillor, she was often critical of decisions made by staff - decisions that she said should not have been made without direction from council.

“We’ve had staff making policy decisions. Council needs to address that. As mayor I’ll be open to discussing things with staff to clarify whose role is what. But I’m not after the individuals. They’re the experts and I am not seeking to replace anybody,” she said in a post-election interview.

“There may be those who make those kinds of decisions for themselves,” she added.

Gutowski’s immediate plans are to make sure that there is “a good orientation for council, so councillors are well grounded in reality”. She also will be asking council to change the procedural bylaw, so there is more flexibility about meeting times and access to council for the public.

Janet Gutowski and Gary Davison are very different types of politicians and they have different goals for their townships and their councils.

But they each have lofty ambitions - each wants to change the way their townships do things.

At the same time they should keep in mind that change is important only insofar as it means the ultimate improvement of the delivery of services to the ratepayers.

Ratepayers don’t really care about the workings of council, about amalgamation or about process.

But we do want our roads improved. And one more thing, we want our taxes to go down, not up.

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