Jeff Green | Jul 16, 2009
Back to HomeFeature Article - July 16, 2009 Central Frontenac CouncilBy Jeff Green
Gutowski softens on county governance
Frontenac County Warden (and mayor of Central Frontenac Township) Janet Gutowski said she would support a proposal by the Township of Frontenac Islands that would double the size of Frontenac County Council. The four Frontenac mayors would remain on the council, and they would be joined by a second appointee from each township after municipal elections next year.
The proposal also includes a weighted voting system, with the mayor of South Frontenac, by far the largest township in the county with 58% of the population, effectively carrying two votes. “Looking at the challenges facing the county, I feel we have to move on this,” Gutowski told a meeting of Central Frontenac Council this week
Earlier this spring, Gutowski had been the strongest advocate for direct public elections for new members to county council, which had been called for by a $35,000 consultant’s report the county commissioned last fall.
That proposal was soundly rejected in a straw vote at a meeting in May that was attended by 18 of the 30 township councilors from the vast county, which stretches from the middle of Lake Ontario to the Madawaska Highlands.
“As much as I thought direct election is the best way to go because the members would have been accountable to the public, it is not going to go through and I have to be realistic,” Gutowski said this week. “Overall this proposal doesn't increase the number of politicians we have, and with a population of 30,000 in the county, we already have 30 politicians. How many more do we need?”
Gutowski said she still has reservations about the proposed change, because the deputy mayors of the four townships, who are the likely source for the second members on county council, are only themselves elected as councilors by a fraction of township electors.
“That may be something we have to consider in our own townships as we go forward” she said, “perhaps a township-wide election for deputy mayor should be looked at.”
Gutowski said she would try to place this matter on the county agenda for a county meeting that had been scheduled for next week, July 22, but she added that the meeting might be postponed because South Frontenac Mayor Gary Davison is unable to attend.
“We may have to meet in August instead,” she said, “although there are time-sensitive issues that we need to deal with.”
County Council, which generally meets only once during the summer, had originally been scheduled to meet on July 15, but that was changed to accommodate the schedule of Frontenac Islands Mayor Jim Vanden Hoek.
“This only illustrates the problem with a four-member council,” said Gutowski. “When one member can't attend we are hindered in what we can do at a meeting because an entire township is un-represented.”
Planned “get-together” not about county bashing, Gary Smith says
Central Frontenac Council will invite representatives from North Frontenac, South Frontenac, and Frontenac Islands councils to a meeting in September to discuss potential cooperation on various issues.
The meeting was proposed by Central Frontenac Deputy Mayor Gary Smith
“I hope the meeting doesn't turn into a meeting about county bashing,” said Councilor Frances Smith.
“That's not the idea,” said Gary Smith, “this is merely an attempt to work together. Let's take an easy example. We contract line painting on Road 38 and South Frontenac contracts line painting on Road 38. If we had one contract for both, it might be more efficient. It's that sort of thing I'm talking about. It’s a get-together, sort of like when the provinces meet just with each other without the federal government running the show.”
That being said, Gary Smith had harsh words for how joint meetings are conducted by Frontenac County.
“Let's put the cards on the table. When township representatives are called down to county meetings, the meetings become a farce in terms of having meaningful discussion between the lower tier and upper tier,” he said.
Smith also expressed scepticism about any possible overtures towards convincing himself, and his colleagues Jim Beam (North Frontenac) and Dennis Doyle (Frontenac Islands) to rejoin a county trails committee after they all resigned in late May.
A draft county trails master plan was presented to county council by county staff, bypassing the committee, in Smith's view. To add insult to injury, the report was then sent directly back to staff for implementation, without direct reference to the committee.
Mayor Gutowski said there were extenuating circumstances in the case, and staff were stretched by the need to answer the call for a flurry of federal grant applications.
She also said the role of the committee had been unclear since its inception and perhaps if the terms of reference were clarified the three representatives might consider returning to the fold. “In retrospect the county council should have made a formal committee and struck terms of reference, so the relationship between staff and politicians would be clear,” Gutowski said.
Gary Smith wasn't buying this explanation, however.
“It was a political committee from the start,” he said. “We [the politicians] chaired the meetings; we were out front in facing the public on this. As you know there are many ratepayers who do not want to see trails at all, so this a political issue. The politicians worked quickly and well on this committee.
“Then, at the last minute, there was a direction given to staff to take this away from politicians. For this whole thing to turn around, it has to be made clear that the political side of the house is running the show. That's the only way.”
Councilors wary of building project
Construction of a 1500 sq. ft. extension to the Central Frontenac Township office, which was included in the 2009 township budget and for which Central Frontenac has also received a grant from the provincial and federal governments, is still opposed by some members of council.
“My only concern is if we are going to use the building for a period of time, we should have an idea of what we are going to do. I know we have a need, but I'd like to see some sort of plan,” said Councilor Bob Harvey when council was presented with a draft sketch of the extension.
The office expansion was initially proposed by CAO John Duchene in order to deal with a chronic shortage of office space, which has led to the public works department being housed in portables located in the parking lot near the building.
“I share Councilor Harvey's concerns,” said Councilor Norm Guntensperger, “we seem to be rushing into something when more thorough planning would be more helpful to the township in the long run.”
“I think council is aware of this,” said Mayor Gutowski, “that is why we have planned visioning sessions. This modest expansion is designed to carry us over until then, and we will always have a use for the space. There will be a full opportunity to discuss this at the next meeting.”
The draft plans for the building are slated for debate at the council meeting on July 28. CAO Duchene said he hopes to be able to put out a “Request for Proposal” for the project after the plan is debated, should it be approved.
Ridge Runners – A request by the Ridge Runner Snowmobile Club to use an unopened road allowance to access Horseshoe Lake near Arden as part of their snowmobile trail network, was deferred by council.
Deputy Mayor Gary Smith said the objections by some adjacent landowners should be included in the information package that is presented to council when the matter comes back for a decision, and he suggested that the Ridge Runners attend the Horseshoe Lake Association meeting in August to try to persuade neighbouring property owners to support the proposal.
A staff report on the proposal did not include a recommended course of action.
Fire Master Plan – Fire Chief Mark MacDonald is expected to present a Fire Master Plan to the township later this year, and Councilor Guntensperger asked whether an update about the plan’s progress could be brought to the next meeting.
“The Fire Master Plan has already been deferred a couple of times. I would like to see a short status report. The training station at the Olden Hall is one thing we have been waiting to see progress on.”
“I'll certainly try to get the fire chief to the next council meeting, or certainly the one after that,” said CAO John Duchene.
“As long as it's a brief update; we don't want him to stop working on the Master Plan in order to prepare the update,” said Councilor Frances Smith.
“That's what I had in mind,” said Guntensperger.
PARC concerns – Council once again expressed a concern that the Program and Accommodation Review Committee (PARC) of the Limestone District School Board that is looking at the Sharbot Lake Family of Schools, could ultimately lead to school closings in one or two communities.
Deputy Mayor Smith said that he presented a Council resolution, which said that all of the schools should remain open, to a meeting of the PARC on July 6, “but no one really spoke about to it. There was some feeling that it was a political manoeuvre by Council.”
“It certainly will have an effect on young families if schools close,” said Mayor Gutowski.
“The problem is that the money being committed by the province for new schools requires school closings. It seems to me that we should be able to affect the way that money is spent,” said Gary Smith.
Council prepared a further motion, this time destined for the Ministry of Education, asking for flexibility in the way funding is divvied up for new school construction.
In the meantime, Gary Smith, who is the Council rep to the PARC process, said, “Will all of you leave this in my hands.”
“Provided you keep all the schools open, get all the funding, and build a nice new school, we will,” replied Frances Smith.