Is there proven need for an expanded council?


city_scope_logo-cmykPrevious discussions transpired more than a decade ago, however the size and composition of city council resurfaced during the Nov. 14 meeting and it is a useful exercise to revisit notes and documents from that time.

In 2003, the council of the day authorized what became the McCarth-Tetrault report – a full and independent review of council and its working relationships at city hall – undertaken at a cost of $25,000 or so.

It characterized that council as “dysfunctional” with a toxic mix of personalities resulting in a “lack of respect for others (which) seriously undermined the effectiveness of council.”

The report made but three recommendations, one of which called for the reduction in size of council to seven members from the current eight, including the mayor.

Of course that recommendation was never adopted although, in 2002 council attempted a reduction in size but the motion died when no member would second it and a subsequent move to increase in size by one member was defeated on a 4-4 vote.

And here we are today seeking to increase the bureaucracy at city hall with a move to endorse a council comprised of mayor and eight councillors.

In order for a revision to the existing composition of council to be in effect for the 2018 municipal election, a bylaw must be passed prior to December 31, 2017.

At the November meeting, discussion touched on the creation of a deputy mayor position.

JEFF KOHLER HS

Former mayor Jeff Kohler

Similar debate took place in January, 2005 based on a recommendation from then-mayor Jeff Kohler‘s task force.

A deputy mayor could either be elected or appointed by council from its existing members to serve when the mayor is unavailable.

It is worth noting the Ontario Municipal Act only recognizes the head of council and council members.

In a letter in June, 2004 to then-clerk Peter Leack from Jill Bellchamber-Glazier with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, she cautioned “if the approach of the task force is that a deputy mayor would automatically have the power of the head (of council), you may want to ask your solicitor.”

She continued, “It is my understanding the mayor must agree to a bylaw . . . that the deputy will perform all of those functions . . .”

The mayor’s task force in 2005 proposed the deputy mayor would be compensated at $23,941, the midway point between the mayor’s salary and that of an alderman.

For years, the head of council each month appointed a member to serve as acting mayor during any time of absence. Is this system not working under the present regime? If not, why not?

At a time when fiscal restraint should be rigorously preached at city hall, why is council proposing an extra salary for an additional councillor and an increase in salary for a deputy mayor?

Related posts:

Should we be feeding one more at the council table

History and findings of the McCarthy-Tetrault report 2003

GOOD TIMING

On Monday’s council agenda is correspondence from Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro advising of proposed changes to Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act.

This modernization of the existing 2001 legislation includes several key changes to watch. If endorsed, the new package would improve access to justice for the public and for municipal councillors by allowing integrity commissioners to investigate complaints.

The city already has appointed an integrity commissioner in John Maddox – who also serves as closed meeting investigator – and it just so happens council will be asked to renew both agreements with him through 2017.

Maddox adjudicates complaints received under the city’s code of conduct – adopted in 2014, but not without considerable debate over lobbying, which prompted Ald. Cliff Barwick to pronounce, “We would all need three pieces of duct tape to apply to our ears and mouth” – and that is another proposed change to the Municipal Act requiring municipalities to have a code of conduct for members of council and local boards.

If you remember, the present council was only a month into its four-year term when Maddox was called upon to mediate in a spat between two councillors during an in-camera discussion of committee appointments.

While we don’t know the specifics, it involved a message or messages exchanged between the two individuals.

Whatever was written, Maddox concluded “The message was ‘ill-timed’ and left considerable room for interpretation.”

Council will likely rubber-stamp both agreements with Maddox but has it determined whether this same service can be provided through the Ontario Ombudsman’s office?

We understand that service is free.

Related posts:

Can courtesy prevail over confrontation on council

Barwick Four found guilty in the court of public opinion

THE NAME GAME

Preston Joe 2012City council is being asked to name a street after long-serving MP Joe Preston.

In a letter to mayor and council from Stephanie Brown, vice-president of Living Alive Granola – of which Preston is a business partner – urging council to adopt the name Preston Lane for a city roadway.

“He has done so much for this community and beyond that I think we should say thank you,” writes Brown.

A noble gesture, but why stop there.

Steve Peters logged yeoman service as alderman, mayor and MPP and a street bearing his name would be equally fitting.

Karen VecchioContributed photoQUOTE OF THE WEEK

“We have to make sure we’re not being given a raw deal here and that there’s going to be money for rural infrastructure in this plan as well. Right now we’re not and we need to continue to voice our concerns.”

Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio speaking with Times-Journal reporter Jennifer Bieman this week about the federal government’s new infrastructure strategy.

City Scope appears Saturday in the St. Thomas Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope

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Is jockeying for position underway for the 2018 mayoral race?


city_scope_logo-cmykThe plug has been pulled – at least temporarily – on Mayor Heather Jackson’s vision of a fibre optics network for St. Thomas.

Her plan for a fibre optics information session was voted down in a closed-door meeting on June 20 and Jackson was so infuriated she fired off an email to various players in the business community pointing the finger at councillors Jeff Kohler and Gary Clarke, who put forth the motion that “The Information Session regarding fibre planned for July 19, 2016 be postponed until a date agreeable to Council.”

Council voted 6-2 in favour of the motion.

The cost of such a network would be tens of millions of dollars according to an individual in the know and this may have played a role in council putting the brakes on the mayor’s plans. Continue reading

Will council give green light to Sutherland Press building demolition?


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Entitled ‘Demolition of an Unsafe Building,’ a report to mayor and council Tuesday from Chris Peck, chief building official, would appear to clearly indicate the city has had enough dealings with the owner of the Sutherland Press building.
Peck is asking council to approve a tender submitted by Schouten Excavating of Watford, Ont., in the amount of $101,135 for demolition of what remains of the four-storey structure owned by David McGee of Toronto.
To recap recent history, on Sept, 16 of last year the city posted an emergency order on the building following a partial roof collapse at the southwest corner of the structure at Moore Street.

Continue reading

Long-term financial solution remains elusive


West Avenue Cemetery

West Avenue Cemetery

It’s shaping up as a hand-to-mouth existence for St. Thomas Cemetery Company.

City council Monday voted to extend the cemetery board of directors a financial life line of sorts by way of a $20,000 operating grant. Combined with the first instalment in April of $30,000, it leaves them $9,000 short of the amount requested during this year’s budget deliberations.

St. Thomas Cemetery Company operates historic West Ave. cemetery and South Park Cemetery south of the city in Central Elgin. It had served notice it would seek to abandon the two burying grounds effective April 30 of this year if the long-standing city grant wasn’t reinstated. Continue reading

Is there a will for ‘amicable’ solution to cemetery crisis?


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With mere days remaining before St. Thomas Cemetery Company seeks to abandon its two burying grounds if a $59,000 grant is not reinstated, there was some movement following an in-camera meeting of council Monday.
“The general tone of council is to try and work toward a resolution or recipe that is amicable for everyone,” CAO Wendell Graves told the Times-Journal on Tuesday.
“And so our solicitor was given direction to correspond with the cemetery board’s solicitor.”
In addition, Coun. Gary Clarke volunteered to sit on the cemetery board after council chose not to appoint a representative for the first time since 1990.
“I volunteered,” indicated Clarke. “I want to be part of the solution and not the problem. I want this to work in the best interests of everyone and not at the taxpayers’ expense.” Continue reading

Spending big doesn’t get you the chain of office


city_scope_logo-cmykThe final numbers have been submitted and it’s a bitter lesson for mayoral candidate Mark Cosens, who found you can’t spend your way to the top.
March 27 was the deadline for candidates to file campaign expenses for the 2014 municipal vote and all 22 individuals met that target.
Cosens claimed $15,244.94 in expenses, which was well beyond double the amount logged by Mayor Heather Jackson at $5,883.59.
Cliff Barwick, who filed months ago, spent just over $4,000. Continue reading

Council not unanimous in approving 3.55% tax levy hike for 2015


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By approving its Part 2 capital budget and the 2015 operating budget Monday, city council authorized a property tax levy of $47,040,822 for this year.

That translates to a 3.55% property tax hike in 2015, up slightly from the 3.48% proposed, yet less than the 3.8% tax levy in 2014.

The slight increase from the proposed budget presented last week to council during a public meeting at the St. Thomas Seniors’ Centre is accounted for in additional grant money doled out by council.

In total, $281,146 was distributed to community groups and social agencies in St. Thomas, much of that sum drawn from working reserves.

That figure does not include $250,000 to St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital for its expansion program as part of the city’s 10-year pledge. Continue reading