Mayor pushes agenda change in name of transparency

·3 min read

SOUTHWEST MIDDLESEX - Mayor Allan Mayhew said adding an inquiries section to the council agenda is a matter of transparency, democracy and legacy.

“Following comments and inquiries that were deemed in the past to be inappropriate by both staff and the majority of council, the comments and inquiries section was removed from our agenda in spring of 2021,” said Mayhew during the June 8 council meeting.

“At the time I regret that such action was necessary. Over the course of the last three or four months, I’ve been looking for an opportunity and a time to restore dialogue in a structured sense that would allow the privilege of inquiries in a balanced and fair manner. And by that I mean fair to not only council but especially fair to staff.”

This new procedure is not meant for comments, which are still allowed at meetings after motions. Mayhew did not see councilors taking advantage of other ways to seek information and insisted an inquiries section was needed.

“But it was this council that was responsible, under my leadership, for taking this (comments and inquiries section) away. And I guess in the interest of transparency and democracy, it was a great concern from ratepayers from all three wards,” said Mayhew.

“And quite honestly, that is a legacy I don’t want to leave behind as mayor.”

The mayor looked to the City of Ottawa for inspiration on how this would work. The idea is for a councilor with any question or an issue from residents to approach staff at least a day or two ahead of a meeting so that staff can research the issue and, if necessary, present recommendations at the next council meeting.

In theory, more dealings done via email or in-person outside of the public’s view would be brought forward. There would also be fewer unanswered questions that need more research at meetings themselves.

Mayhew also hopes this means less confrontation.

“Surprising confrontation are not beneficial to solving a problem, research and dialogue are,” said Mayhew.

The mayor’s motion for staff to draw up a bylaw amendment was seconded by Coun. Mike Sholdice.

“Particularly since the start of the pandemic, ratepayers are feeling disappointed and at arms-length from the process when we should be doing the opposite for those that live and pay taxes in Southwest Middlesex,” said Sholdice.

The specifics still need to be voted on. The motion for staff to work on this was passed with Coun. Martin Vink dropping off the Zoom call and not voting, and Coun. Christa Cowell voting against it.

“I’m not interested in making a change with just seven meetings left and asking staff to put time and effort into such a document,” said Cowell, stressing there are other ways to bring up questions.

Coun. Mark McGill voted to see a draft of the new agenda section, but was concerned it may add more work for staff or be used for electioneering.

“We do not want grandstanding. We do not bring concerns to get our name in the paper,” agreed Mayor Mayhew.

Chris Gareau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Middlesex Banner

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting