NORTH HURON – A debate about how the deputy reeve is appointed ended in deferring the whole conversation at the North Huron council meeting on June 21. Councillors were unable to agree on the motion.
The deputy reeve position is currently a job that is assigned by council members and not an electoral vote decision.
Clerk Carson Lamb provided council with an in-depth report on Monday evening as part of the township’s 2020-23 Strategic Plan. The action item on the plan in question was No. 3.7: Evaluate the current size and structure of council.
There are several tiers to the entire report, and Lamb broke them up into several meetings to cover each subject fairly.
In an effort to allow for targeted discussion/decision-making, there are essentially up to four "layers" of decisions for council to make regarding council composition, Lamb’s report outlined:
- selection method for the position of deputy reeve;
- size of council;
- retain a ward system or dissolve the wards in favour of electing all members of council by general vote (at-large); and
- if a ward system is to be retained, decide whether any members of council, with the exception of the reeve and potentially deputy reeve, will be elected by general vote (at-large).
If wards are to be dissolved, the fourth consideration is unnecessary.
Lamb, in his report, also explained the provisions under the Municipal Act, 2011 under which a municipality – by local initiative and subject to certain rules – can alter the composition of its council.
Under the Act, a local municipality can change the composition of its council, subject to the following provisions:
- there shall be a minimum of five members, one of whom shall be the Head of Council; - the members of council shall be elected in accordance with the Municipal Elections Act, 1996;
- the Head of Council shall be elected by general vote (at-large);
- the members, other than the Head of Council, shall be elected by general vote (at-large) or wards or by any combination of general vote (at-large) and wards; and
- the representation of a local municipality on the council of an upper-tier municipality shall not be affected by the bylaw of the local municipality.
For changes to council size and ward boundaries to be in effect for the next regular municipal election – in this case, 2022 – bylaws must be passed before Jan. 1, 2022.
The discussion at council on Monday night appeared to be doomed from the start.
Reeve Bernie Bailey explained at the beginning of the debate the reason for the breakdown so that the long discussions could be broken down into manageable portions, "so we won't have a two-hour debate tonight and then debate the same thing for another two hours at the next meeting."
Councillor Chris Palmer was not prepared to do that.
“I just have a few words,” Palmer said. “I’m quite upset about this; the driving force is a mystery to me.”
He went on to say, “There is no way I can vote on this, one way or the other, because the consequences are too huge, and we’re not able to talk about it.”
“I understand Reeve that you just want to stay focused on the deputy reeve part but look at the consequences,” he shouted.
Palmer was clearly agitated, going on a long rant, asking for more information on who is demanding that the deputy reeve be an at-large (voted in) member of council and why it was coming up now.
“Carson, this is a very lopsided report,” Palmer said, addressing Lamb directly. “I know you did a good job, but it was lopsided, and you have to paint the true picture of what this municipality actually looks like, and it would work so well, so well,” as he threw his hands in the air and shrugged his shoulders.
Lamb defended the way he structured his report.
“The way that I have approached this is that it is entirely data driven,” he said. “I was not trying to speculate; these are the local contexts; these are the experiences of other municipalities. That is up to you councillors to do…it’s purely based on numbers.”
Bailey reminded all councillors this report was requested by council, referring to the strategic plan.
“Was this not in the plan,” Bailey said. “Were we not all at the firehall meeting?”
The debate went on for almost an hour.
Council eventually agreed to defer any decision until the July 5 council meeting for a more in-depth discussion.
The entire report can be read on the June 21 agenda package, which can be found online at www.northhuron.ca.
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times