Sparks fly as Tay settles on a seven member, at-large council

·6 min read

Seven members to represent them all, seven members elected at-large.

That's how Tay's next election will go according to the decision made at the recent council meeting, which saw some friction between members around the table.

Elected officials butted heads when Coun. Mary Warnock read out a prepared statement asking her peers to consider voting for status quo and putting the question to referendum for the people to decide at the next election.

"It should be a decision of the people, not one made by the members of council," she said, adding that by making the decision council creates "apathy in a community if leaders stop listening to the people they serve.

"I heard from council there wasn't enough input from the public, however, I don't think that gives us the right to ignore the ones that did participate," said Warnock, who had support from Couns. Paul Raymond and Sandy Talbot to remain with the current number of council members and the ward system.

Warnock, however, was of the opinion that the only fair and equitable decision is the one made by taxpayers through a referendum, which was something Raymond briefly brought up, too.

Warnock also said she didn't see any urgency in making the decision. And instead of worrying about this, she said, economic recovery should be the top mandate of the next council.

Warnock said everyone around the table could make effective decisions for their choices, using county council as a recent example.

"A decision was made there a couple weeks ago," she said. "The question was, should we decrease the membership to 16 or stay with 32? The result was to keep the 32 members with an addition of a warden at-large.

"I believe our representatives Mayor (Ted) Walker and Deputy Mayor (Gerard) LaChapelle supported that decision through a recorded vote," she noted. "So it must be their belief that the numbers are needed at county level, and hence, I would hope they would not be looking at decreasing our number in Tay."

Warnock said council needs to do what's best for Tay and that the present composition has served the township well.

"I want to go back in time to something my mother always said, 'do not make decisions for yourself based on what your friends are saying, but what's best for you,'" she added.

But Warnock's mention of how the mayor and deputy mayor voted at the county level didn't sit well with the two Tay county council representatives.

"Coun. Warnock, I was really disappointed that you chose to grandstand and do personal shots at myself and the deputy mayor without any research," said Mayor Ted Walker. "Do you know what the other options council had to deal with that day?"

She said she didn't know.

"Exactly," fired back Walker. "What you said tonight was that we chose that method by recorded vote so we must be in favour of retaining that number here. What you didn't research was what was happening in the previous six months at county and all the different discussions. So before you criticize in future, at least do your research."

He then talked about her request to let the people make the decision via referendum.

"We were elected to this municipality to make decisions," said Walker. "We shouldn't be dumping this responsibility on the people who elected us. We're obligated, due to our position, to make tough decisions, not pass them off to somebody else."

He said the Municipal Act says, if the people answer yes to a referendum, "the municipality shall do everything in its power to implement the results of the referendum."

If the answer is no, Walker added, "the municipality shall not do anything to implement the matter for a period of four years. Putting a question on this to a referendum, you will be binding a future council for eight years to make any changes."

He also added he didn't see how the existence of ward boundaries affected a council member's commitment to serve residents.

"It is very important that a (councillor) is representative of the entire municipality, not of arbitrary lines drawn on a piece of paper," said Walker. "We're one municipality, all served by the same council. The roster of best candidates should not be diminished by reason of where they live."

The deputy mayor and Couns. Barry Norris and Jeff Bumstead were also in support of an at-large system, with the latter two also being in favour of a five-member council.

Before the council composition matter was discussed, Raymond threw out another idea: the abolition of the office of the deputy mayor.

"When Tay solicited input from residents about council composition going forward, there were a few suggestions around doing away with the office of the deputy mayor," he said, adding this is not a reflection on the current elected member that holds this office.

"If council is going to move forward with changing our electoral system for the next election, it seems only right that this relevant discussion take place as well."

In his research, Raymond said he found that the office of the deputy mayor and related responsibilities are almost entirely at the discretion of the municipality. Responsibilities generally attributed to the office are assigned to councillors appointed to perform additional duties where necessary. This can also include performing certain duties in the absence of the mayor. Procedural bylaws could accomplish much of this, he said.

"While the office is still a required position, another discussion is the selection of the deputy mayor," Raymond said. "There is no consistent way the office is filled. Tay fills it by election at-large, other municipalities appoint a deputy mayor.

"If it is a result of an appointment, there's nothing preventing council members to be appointed on a rotation basis," he added.

Tay is required to have a deputy mayor to fulfil county council's requirement, but does council has the appetite to add this discussion to the electoral reform its discussing tonight? asked Raymond.

It seemed no one was hungry for that meal.

"If in fact the county had altered the numbers down there, I would totally agree with you that we could be looking at appointment," said Norris. "But based on the fact that the deputy mayor has a seat at the county, I think that's the way it should be mandated. Appointing doesn't work because it takes a full term to understand what's going on (at county level)."

Walker agreed.

"Had the county decided to go to 16 and the deputy mayor was not included, then it would make sense," he said, county council will make a final decision soon. "It's something we can or, perhaps, future council can look at."

With that wrapped up, council then voted on Warnock's recommendation to stay with the status quo of seven council members elected through a ward system.

A recorded vote showed that the motion was defeated overwhelmingly. Her second motion, for a referendum during the 2022 election asking people to choose an electoral system, did not even receive a seconder and died without being voted on.

Then Norris moved for the council composition to remain at seven (mayor, deputy mayor, and five councillors) and for all to be elected at-large. That motion was passed with council support. The vote wasn't recorded so there was no indication of who voted in favour or against.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com