Gordon Barnhart is seeking a second term as head of the association representing the province's cities, towns and villages, despite two recent controversies and at least one reported call for his resignation.
Barnhart, who has come under fire for comments about municipal amalgamation and for travel during the pandemic, is up for re-election on Monday as the head of Municipalities of Saskatchewan, formerly known as the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association.
The Saltcoats mayor's sole challenger is Rodger Hayward, who currently serves as the mayor of Naicam and as vice-president of towns in the association.
Barnhart said he believes change is coming and his experience makes him the best person to help small municipalities grappling with "diminishing" tax bases and the "increasing" cost of maintaining infrastructure.
"If we don't do anything, what then? How do we have a solution for municipalities that just can't survive economically?" he said, noting that some are finding ways to save costs by co-operating, but the Communities in Transition program is "not working well."
Hayward, who was among the board members who disavowed Barnhart's views on the issue this spring, said while the topic of amalgamation is likely to come up, neither the province nor SUMA's members are ready.
He proposed leaving it to members to raise the issue while encouraging the creation of joint projects between municipalities and taking lessons from other provinces' consolidations.
"But the conversation probably will come around, I'm sure of that," he said.
Both candidates appear united on the need to mend fences with the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, a relationship understood to have deteriorated over the last year.
Barnhart also expressed the need for "unity" on Municipalities of Saskatchewan's board of directors, which distanced itself from his views last spring — an episode the candidate described as a "kerfuffle."
Hayward said his aims as president include coordinating with the province and municipalities on responding to COVID-19, which has blown holes in budgets at every level of government.
Barnhart will attend the association's virtual convention from Hawaii. His decision to travel abroad led the remaining board members to call an emergency meeting and issue a statement expressing disappointment.
Hayward called the trip a "poor decision" that shows "a lack of leadership and good judgment."
Barnhart acknowledged it could "possibly" affect his chances at re-election, but emphasized that he broke no rules or laws, has maintained a "very quiet life" and plans to return to Saskatchewan soon.
The convention will also feature speeches from Premier Scott Moe and Opposition leader Ryan Meili. The government has in the past used it as an opportunity to float pre-budget trial balloons.
Municipalities will also debate four resolutions, including one calling for staggered elections, which would see residents elect half of their local council once every two years.
Alex MacPherson and Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix