‘Less formal approach’: North Huron council dissolves Homecoming Committee of Council following resignations of several committee members

WINGHAM – A social media post informing the town that the 2024 Wingham Homecoming event is cancelled caused an uproar in the community, however Reeve Paul Heffer says the event will take place as scheduled next year.

Several members of the recently-appointed 2024 Wingham Homecoming Committee of Council resigned because they wanted to avoid following the provincial and municipal legislative requirements of a committee of council, says North Huron Clerk Carson Lamb.

“That committee has not yet met, but the township has received two letters of resignation from committee members who were appointed by council,” said Lamb in an email to the Advance Times on Feb. 16. “The letters note concern with the committee being required to abide by the legislative requirements of Committees of Council.”

Heffer told the Advance Times in a Feb. 16 email, “The organizers who have expressed these concerns were made aware of the requirements from the beginning of the process. These requirements are also required of all of North Huron’s committees of council.”

The North Huron Committee Appointment Policy Bylaw defines a “Committee of Council” as any advisory committee, ad-hoc committee, task force, board, statutory committee, or steering committee of the Township of North Huron authorized by bylaw to which council appoints volunteer committee members and council representatives.

Township council may, at its discretion, establish and appoint Committees of Council to obtain public participation, public consultation on township policies and programs, or work on specific projects. Composition, qualification, and recruitment of volunteer committee members shall be in accordance with the provisions of this policy unless otherwise determined by council.

During the Homecoming Committee’s delegation on Dec. 19, 2022, where they requested to become a Committee of Council, Deputy Reeve Kevin Falconer warned them of the constraints that would be likely.

“I just want to make sure that the delegation is fully aware of the restraints that becoming a Committee of Council will put on them,” Falconer said. “Council is a slow reacting thing... it could be weeks between decisions.

“It actually gives council the ability to allow or deny anything that would be happening, because it has to come before council for decision making.”

Committee members Angela McPherson and Kendra Kregar insisted that they were fully aware of the constraints that could happen, telling councillors, “We did do a lot of investigation into what was our best option, to be a committee of council or not to be… and moving forward we feel that being a committee of council is in our best interest.”

Heffer, on Feb. 15, said the event will not be cancelled and “council will be providing direction regarding the vacancies at a future meeting.”

“Council, at this time, has not cancelled Homecoming despite comments in the community,” he said.

Committee members resign

On Feb. 15, the Advance Times reached out to the individuals who made the social media post, who chose not to disclose why they decided to resign, saying that it had to do with an email they received but did not provide any further information.

Following the initial online publication of this story, McPherson – a former member of the Homecoming Committee – reached out via email to provide a response.

“We were refraining from comments as felt it was in the best interest of the town,” McPherson wrote, “but feel some clarity needs to be provided since the recent comments of both Reeve Paul Heffer and North Huron Clerk Carson Lamb have been quoted.”

Although the committee was aware of the restraints that accompany being a committee of council, the committee came to the realization that things were not exactly the same as they were in previous Homecoming events, as some of the legislation has changed over the years.

One of the problems was the committee would have to meet during regular business hours and not all members were able to do that without having to take vacation time from their employment.

McPherson said the township told them they could make amendments to the committee’s terms of reference at any time and in this case, “Council has given direction for meetings to be held during regular business hours.”

“Multiple times within the body of the email was it stated that North Huron could change our terms of reference by resolution of council at any time. The committee did not take the terms of reference lightly; and had previously attempted to negotiate the terms with no success. The committee was discouraged that the terms of reference were being changed and amended so frequently from the start, which left uncertainty of a path moving forward.”

McPherson said that when the township was questioned about the differences from previous Homecoming events including legislative changes, the following response was given by the township:

“I am aware of other local municipalities where the Homecoming Committee has been a Committee of Council, but has acted entirely independently of the municipality, and the municipality has provided access to seed money and municipal insurance for the events. This is not an approach that the Township is willing or able to entertain for the 2024 event, for several reasons.

“I can understand if there is confusion from members because you have likely spoken with members of other Homecoming Committees of Council which were not operated in this manner. As I noted above, largely due to insurance and liability concerns, the Township of North Huron requires all Committees of Council to operate in accordance with all of the legal requirements set out for all Committees of Council, and cannot make an exception for one committee. Staff from other municipalities have provided feedback to North Huron staff during this process advising that, going forward, their Homecoming Committees will be operated in the same way that North Huron’s is currently set up. It is also important to note that municipalities have different procedural bylaws and committee appointment policies, so the methods of operating committees can vary greatly from one municipality to another, outside of the rules that are required for all municipalities under the Municipal Act.”

McPherson said the committee “did not come to the decision to disband lightly.”

“We were committed to making Wingham Homecoming 2024 a success. We knew early in our planning we were going to take the lead and try our best to chair a Homecoming Committee,” said McPherson. “We would like extend our appreciation to the community at large for your overpouring support, and want to reiterate that we had a good working relation with our council representative. We welcome other interested members of the community to step forward if they feel they can meet the requirements and restraints of North Huron.”

‘Less formal approach’

A special council meeting was held on Friday afternoon – in closed session – to discuss the 2024 Wingham Homecoming event, among other things.

Just after 5 p.m. on Feb. 17, the Advance Times received a press release stating North Huron council “affirms its support for the 2024 Wingham Homecoming event and opens the door for the interested community organizers to work collaboratively with the township through the North Huron Special Events Approvals process.”

The aforementioned process is a 34-page document which provides guidance to community groups interested in hosting events, and the process on receiving approvals for things such as road closures and signage.

During the Feb. 17 special council meeting, a resolution was passed by council to dissolve the formal 2024 Wingham Homecoming Committee of Council “in order to allow for the process to continue to move forward more efficiently with a community-based approach.”

According to the press release, council also expressed its support for any community-based organizers to approach council through the Special Events Approvals process, “to request access to township resources for the event, including seed money, if required.”

Heffer is quoted in the release, saying, “Homecoming celebrations are great community events, and we want to do everything we can, as a municipality, to support the community in putting on a safe and enjoyable 2024 Wingham Homecoming.”

In the Feb. 17 press release, Heffer said that after the special council meeting it is clear that a “less formal approach” would be better suited for organizing this event.

“We were originally approached by community members looking to form a committee of council, but after today’s meeting council determined that the community would be better served by a more efficient and less formal approach through the township’s Special Event Approvals process,” said Heffer.

The reeve added that township staff will provide support to community members “to help make this a successful event.”

The 2024 Wingham Homecoming event is scheduled for July 28 to Aug. 1, 2024.

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter and Mike Wilson, Wingham Advance Times