West Nipissing motion tears council apart, will province save democracy?

·4 min read

West Nipissing council’s January 4th meeting was cut short again due to lack of quorum, and if councillors continue to avoid the council table, the province may step in.

The new year has dragged along last year’s issues, particularly Mayor Joanne Savage’s motion—listed under section L-1 on the agenda—that calls for council to discuss the duties of the municipality’s chief administrative officer.

The item refers to a human resources issue involving an identifiable individual, and as such, some councillors feel the motion should be struck from the agenda and discussed in closed session.

See: Agenda item continues to divide West Nipissing council

As currently presented on the agenda, councillor Dan Roveda worries the topic will be discussed openly and could lead to legal ramifications for the municipality.

However, Mayor Savage explained that the motion is designed to discuss the “roles and responsibilities” of the CAO, and therefore can be discussed in an open meeting.

Councillors Chris Fisher, Roland Larabie, and Leo Malette joined Roveda in skipping the last council meeting.

See: Four West Nipissing councillors skip meeting on Mayor’s motion

“I would be more than happy to return to the table,” Roveda explained via email, if the Mayor “removes the notice of motion.”

He mentioned he was corresponding with the mayor via e-mail before the meeting, requesting she remove the motion, but “she ignored this and tried to spin it as us being the problem.”

The meetings scheduled for September 23rd, October 4th and October 18th were cancelled, as was the December 7th and December 21st meeting—council did not meet once last month.

The work of the municipality continues—roads are plowed, garbage collected—but there is much business simmering on the back burner.

Residents are losing patience, many taking to social media to express frustration and disdain for council’s stand-still.

“What the hell!” one resident posted after learning the meeting was cancelled. “This is out of control,” another commentator posted, adding councillors are “voted in to do a job” and when there are no meetings, “pull back their pay and save us all some money.”

In early December, Lynn Murphy started a petition to call on the province to “investigate West Nipissing Municipal council’s actions.”

See: Petition launched to hold West Nipissing council accountable

If council does not meet for 60 days—which would mean a January void of meetings—the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing could step in to reconvene West Nipissing’s council.

The ministry has the power to disband council and call a municipal election as per the Municipal Act.

“If the council of a municipality is unable to hold a meeting for a period of 60 days because of a failure to obtain quorum, the Minister may by order declare all the offices of the members of the council to be vacant and a by-election shall be held,” section 226 (1) of the Act clarifies.

This possibility offers hope for some residents. However, the ministry also has the power to ensure a municipal council operates with a full roster. In July 2021, Jeremy Seguin resigned from West Nipissing’s council. His seat remains vacant.

See: Seguin resigns from 'toxic and dysfunctional' council

The ministry recently sent a letter to the mayor and council expressing “concern” about so many cancelled meetings.

The letter, dated January 4th, mentioned “council’s failure to fill a council vacancy” and the lack of meetings since November 29th “due to lack of quorum.”

“I wish to remind you that I expect you to fulfill your duties and responsibilities,” explained Steve Clark, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

“The residents of West Nipissing deserve a council that is willing to work together.”

He also mentioned that ministry staff are “ready to assist you” and “will also be keeping me apprised of your progress.”

The next regular municipal election will be held Monday, October 24.

Also, on January 4th councillor Fisher sent an email to council proposing a “compromise” regarding the mayor’s contentious motion.

He suggested a “special meeting be called to deal with the pressing issues of the municipality” which could bridge council’s “impasse” and serve as “a compromise” to allow business to continue.

This special meeting would not include the notice of motion regarding discussions about the chief administrative officer.

Mayor Savage responded, wondering “what is the compromise, councillor Fisher?”

“Why not attend this evening’s meeting to move forward the business of the community?” she continued.

He did not, nor did three other councillors, and the rift dividing West Nipissing council remains.

A special meeting has been called for January 11th. The agenda is short and does not contain Mayor Savage’s motion regarding the CAO.

Instead, Kathy Horgan, with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, has prepared a presentation for council—if quorum is achieved.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca

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