Monday’s council meeting was most decidedly the tale of two aldermen.
The definitive issue — who should attend and how much should be spent on conferences and conventions.
Council has budgeted $6,000 for attending such functions this year and four members had sought to attend the Ontario Good Roads Conference coming up in Toronto.
Trouble is, that would eat up about $5,500 of that figure on just one junket.
Mayor Heather Jackson-Chapman and the committee chairman, in this case Ald. Tom Johnston, should be the only attendees. Ald. Sam Yusuf read the situation correctly and graciously withdrew his request to participate. In the process exhibiting political maturity beyond his two months of council experience.
On the other hand, Ald. Mark Cosens scoffed at the budget, calling the amount diminutive, and asserted he will be in Toronto.
It doesn’t matter there is a fixed budget to deal with. It means nought council is attempting to set an example of fiscal responsibility for ratepayers who are picking up the tab in any event.
No, this is all about entitlement — and a complete disregard for the understanding the mayor and aldermen are elected to serve the people.
Under the Cliff Barwick regime, relations between the city, its neighbouring communities and Elgin county degenerated to an embarrassing low point, culminating in the finger wagging and stern lecturing following last year’s boil water advisories.
With a new mayor in St. Thomas and Dave Mennill now the warden for Elgin, it hasn’t taken long for the two respective councils to begin the fence-mending process.
A liaison dinner will be held Monday at the county administration building where, beside breaking bread, the participants will address an agenda that includes a history of cooperative efforts, a review of the health recruitment partnership and an overview of tourism initiatives.
What a refreshing initiative — partnerships prevailing over personal prejudice.
TIME TO REVIVE A DEAD ISSUE
When Jeff Kohler conceded defeat following the 2006 municipal vote, he told the Times-Journal he had no regrets looking back on his three years as head of council, however he had two “pet projects” he would have liked to tackle.
“I think the composition of council still needs to be looked at,” he explained in the packed lobby of the Capitol Theatre.
“And, I firmly believe council needs to look at the ward system. There are a lot of great candidates that just never had the opportunity to get their message out with 23 candidates running (in 2006), but with the ward
system, we might be able to do that.”
Well, Kohler looks to have the opportunity to re-visit the merits of the ward system for St. Thomas.
Monday, he asked city clerk Wendell Graves to prepare a report on such a system.
It’s a breath of life for a municipal structure that has considerable merit, would level the playing field across St. Thomas for both residents and candidates and, hopefully, eliminate the intrusion of those seeking election who have, at best, a tenuous connection to the city.
Barwick paid lip service to the ward system in 2008, when he urged council to take a serious look at the proposal, which would likely take two years to implement.
The ward system would see St. Thomas divided into separate zones, with aldermen being elected based on where they live or own property.
Kohler began to pursue the idea of a ward system in February, 2004, when he advertised for applicants for his mayoral task force.
At that time, he sought “To ask the task force to go out and get input on what they feel the makeup of the ward system should be, or if the public is happy with the way things are today. There needs to be some extensive research into that. My personal view is I think it’s time we look at some sort of system like that. We want to do the research and homework, rather than just coming up with an arbitrary yes or no.”
In August, 2004, the task force determined the city was too small for a ward system and Kohler conceded it was now a “dead issue.”
“I didn’t really push it because I was getting an indication council wasn’t willing to go down that road.
” I look at it as a dead issue. Maybe the undertaking is a little premature for St. Thomas. I still think it’s something we should pursue in the not-too-distant future. The growth of the city is not stopping.”
Well, in spite of the collateral damage from the economic meltdown, that time is now.
The process of putting St. Thomas back on its feet should include the establishment of electoral wards in time for the 2014 municipal vote.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“This is not a travel club.”
Ald. Gord Campbell serves up a reality check to Ald. Mark Cosens Monday, with the reminder council needs to remember it has sent a message to ratepayers it is attempting to keep expenses in check.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to: email@example.com.
If council budgeted $6,000, and provided council didn’t just pluck that number out of the air, then surely council must have identified the functions and the number of people that would attend those functions in order to arrive at a budget of $6,000. So, why would this be an issue, it is basic financial management 101.
The broader implication for taxpayers is that this does not augur well for the budget process or how their money will be spent.
A WARD SYSTEM
St. Thomas is one of three remaining Ontario communities its size still not using a ward system to elect aldermen/councillors.
A ward system provides residents with effective representation by ensuring that every area of the city receives equal representation on council and further, their vote would carry more weight in the determination of who gets elected. It is the universal constitutional principle of ‘one person, one vote’ which allows the vote of each citizen to cast an equal influence on the forming of representation. A ward system makes alderman more accountable, provides diversity of opinion on council and encourages higher voter turnout.
QUOTE FOR THE WEEK
Behaviour which appears superficially correct but is intrinsically corrupt always irritates those who see below the surface. ~ James Bryant Conant