Jeff Green | May 14, 2009
Back to HomeFeature Article - May 14, 2009 Mayors squeezed by councilors as governance debate comes to a headby Jeff Green
At a meeting that was attended by 22 of 32 members of councils from the four lower-tier Frontenac townships (Frontenac Islands, South, Central and North Frontenac) the four mayors who represent each council on the upper-tier county council found themselves in a distinct minority.
While the mayors all expressed at least some sympathy for the recommendation of a report on county governance that called for a direct public election of three members to the county council as part of the next municipal election, the 18 other council members in the room uniformly rejected that option.
Instead they favoured expanding the county council by allowing each lower tier to appoint one other member to join the four mayors, and were generally open to giving some extra weight, possibly a third representative, to South Frontenac in recognition of its population, which is more than double that of the second most populous township, Central Frontenac.
County Warden Janet Gutowski repeatedly resisted an attempt, first proposed by Central Frontenac Councilor Bob Harvey, to hold a straw vote among the representatives in attendance on the question of direct election of county councillors.
“Let's get that out of the way and move on to something that we can all agree on,” said Harvey.
“I don't want you to vote on something today, before considering it fully, and then find you have lost an opportunity,” she said, “I think instead of voting we should discuss this further”.
Repeated requests for a vote came from councillors from different townships, leading Gutowski to say, “I can’t allow a straw vote unless my fellow county council members agree, but I think it is premature”.
South Frontenac Mayor Davison and Frontenac Islands Mayor Jim Van den Hoek agreed with Gutowski.
“I don't need a vote to know what people in this room are thinking. But we have one more public meeting on this, and we will make a decision when county council meets on May 20,” said Jim Vanden Hoek. “The townships will have a chance to ratify our decision or not”.
South Frontenac Chief Administrative Officer Gord Burns, who will be retiring in a couple of months, then said “I hate to disagree with my mayor, and the warden, but with all these people here it would be a mistake to miss the opportunity to give them their say”.
Warden Gutowski then agreed to a vote on the question of whether the councilors in the room would like to see a second representative on county council from each township. They all agreed.
They also agreed that South Frontenac should have some extra weight on the county, although how that can be done was deferred until it can be discussed by South Frontenac township council.
In order for the makeup of county council to change, the change must be approved by county council itself, as well as a majority of the lower-tier townships, representing a majority of the county population. This means South Frontenac and two of the three other townships would have to ratify any change that is approved by county council.
Councilor David Hahn, from South Frontenac, said, “I think it is time for the mayors to let go of the direct election idea, and congratulate themselves for what they have accomplished. We have complete agreement on a second member from each township. They should declare victory”.
County Council will consider governance at their meeting on May 20. What happens after that depends on what they decide. If they agree to a new makeup of county council, it will go to the townships for ratification. If they don't, the matter will likely be put to bed for another four years.