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Council number dissenting view also to be presented Thursday

CitizensAssembly1I would like to commend the team for the way they ran our Assembly, and the expertise they brought to bear on our deliberations.  It was at once entertaining, profoundly interesting, and regardless of outcome, an incredible seminar on municipal government. To Dr. Jonathan Rose, Drs to be Aaron Ettinger and Tim Abray-Nyman, our sincere thanks for your invaluable contribution to making the Assembly a great success.

Councillors are rarely given the luxury of dealing with issues which have a right or wrong answer to them. Most of the items they deal with are based on a bias generated by the presenter. The question of support or non-support then has to be decided based on a criterion which is established by each councillor, given his or her experience, activity in the area they represent and their own personal opinion on the topic. Opinions will vary on each topic and it is a format which requires all facets of life and activity in the municipality to be represented.

The final recommendation of the Citizen’s Assembly was a Council of 10 members and the Mayor. This number was reached by consensus building. The ‘’actual’’ opinions ranged from 6 to 15 Councillors. There are a number of citizens who strongly feel that the status quo (15) is the correct answer to the question, what should the size of the Prince Edward County Council be?

Some of the reasons the group felt were important to the decision of retaining the current council size are as follows.
1.  A smaller council simply means that fewer people will decide the direction and governance of the community in which we live and work. We feel we have a diverse community and would like all voices to be heard at Council deliberations.

2. The reduction of councillors would mean that the existing workload (and constituent contact time) would have to be addressed by fewer people, possibly establishing the need for more and longer meetings. This would certainly impact councillors who have full time employment and would most likely dissuade many potential candidates from running, thus greatly decreasing and limiting the number of qualified candidates available to the electorate.

3. A reduction in council size would also mean that each councillor would have a larger ward and be responsible to, and for, more constituents. At election time this again would very much limit the number of people able to consider standing for election. It is an expectation in our County that the candidates try to visit each house. A person who has a full time job, or someone without a lot of resources, will have significant difficulties handling a campaign successfully. This will start limiting Council to retired wealthy residents!

4. The diversity of the current council, as far as life and work experience goes, is greater due to its larger size, which is beneficial to the decision making process, given the myriad of departments and situations council has to deal with.

5. Currently it is practically impossible for a group of like-minded individuals with strong personalities to dominate and control processes by banding together, given council’s current size. The possibility of this type of domination would increase as the number of participants shrinks.

6. Accessibility of councillors to the public is a cornerstone of municipal politics, and a very important factor to our residents. Shrinking representation will definitely decreases the amount of accessibility to and by the public.

7.  In a municipality like ours, which has a large geographical area and a diversity of function depending on the Ward (tourism, beaches, bedroom communities, retirement communities, agricultural activity, shoreline issues, specialized activities such as wineries, rural issues, urban issues) but a small population, dispersed throughout its entirety, the distribution of representation is an important consideration and the existing council compliment addresses this issue.

8. The County is unique and its historical boundaries are an important part of its heritage and need to be preserved.  Although not perfect (Bloomfield being the only real concession), the current system creates a respectable ratio of representation by population while still addressing the more important issue of dispersion of representation. The current model does also allow for changes, if the population changes significantly, though this is not forecast.

9.  A major issue in discussions was that of the ‘’tie vote’’. The rules for councils specify that a tie vote means a motion is defeated. Thus the size of council is irrelevant and making a change just to satisfy this concern is meaningless.

10. Repeatedly it was brought forward that a smaller council is a more effective and efficient council. How effective a council is, will depend on the people elected and on the mayor, both of which are determined during the election. A smaller council in no way means that it is more effective. Also, council may be more “efficient” in that decisions are made more quickly, but this certainly does not mean that the decisions are better.

11. There was talk that councillors should focus on “governing” and not “manage“. The latter implies that residents should not be calling councillors for help with a problem, but go directly to the County employees. Usually, if there is a problem, it means that the resident has tried contacting staff to no avail, or needs advice on how to proceed. Inherent in our system of government, and in the role of an elected official (at any level) is this interface with the electorate. Residents believe that a councillor should be available to help!

12. Comparing ourselves to other areas, and concluding that we need fewer councillors is a fallacious conclusion. It is agreed by all that there is no financial gain in reducing council. Therefore we need to choose a council size that works best for us, Prince Edward County, regardless of what other areas decide.

13. Finally, any reduction in Council size will lead automatically to a change in ward boundaries. This will be a lengthy process with a lot of political upheaval and strife. The number of people currently “protesting’’ the size of council will seem like a minor objection, compared to what will happen.

When the province virtually forced amalgamation on the County some 16 years ago, provincial officials had high praise for Prince Edward County’s choice of a single county level, so much so that it was often referred to as a model for other areas to follow. Part of that arrangement was that each former township would retain its own name, and that the representation established at the time of amalgamation was also to remain.

Our County’s values, and our attractiveness to tourists, are based in part on our history, with our historic townships (now wards) being a cornerstone. There is little to be gained from changing our organization, and a great deal to be lost. The referendum results clearly allowed Council to shelve this question. Further time spent on this issue will certainly put into question Council’s use of its time. Why ‘’fix’’ something that is working?!
Kathy Vowinckel

Filed Under: Letters and OpinionNews from Everywhere Else

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  1. Phil St-Jean says:

    Well said Laurie.
    I too would like all members of the CA speak up.
    It would be a shame if the extreme view with their misleading and inaccurate statements become the voices people hear.
    Several councillors will be hosting town hall meetings seeking input from the public.
    I urge everyone to attend, if only to express the view if the supermajority.

    I was very disappointed in former councillor and mayoral candidate Monuca Alyeas belittling statement that the CA members only had 69 days of municipal training.
    Need I remind her that she had zero experience when she got elected.
    That aside 2 CA members are former councillors.
    Please don’t discount our contribution.

    If you want to see council follow the recommendations of the electorate and the CA get out to the meetings and speak up.

  2. Doris Lane says:

    I was shocked by Lauries statement that most of the council did not understand the ballot question andsome did not understand what the citizens committee was doing.
    As was stated only 3 or 4 seemed to know what was going on shameful
    Get the job done–reduce the council and get on with more important things like saving us money.

  3. Laurie says:

    The events of Last Thursday’s meeting of Council were disheartening to say the least for the many hours the Citizens’ Assembly put into their deliberations and final recommendation to reduce the size of Council from 15 to 10 members plus the mayor.
    On a positive note, two or three Council members seemed well informed and anxious to act and Mayor Mertens urged Council members to “do the job they have been paid to do”.
    Sadly though, several Council members seemed ill informed about so many things including the actual wording of the question on the ballot in the last election, what decision they were to take at the meeting, the timing of said decision, the process of public consultation and reasons why the CA recommended reducing the size of council. The balance of Council members remained mute throughout the entire meeting.
    The public deputations were alarmingly inaccurate and ill informed and represented a very small minority (albeit VOCAL). One individual resorted to the rather feeble tactic of attacking the credibility of the CA specifically whether members had adequate knowledge and whether the group was “representative” of the population of the County. Clearly the Citizens’ Assembly was “representative of the electorate” who cared enough to cast their votes in the last election. And make no mistake, they will vote again.
    While it is important for a minority to be heard, this does not mean we should be pandering to them. I urge the super majority the Citizens’ Assembly (81%) to speak out.
    The rationale for the CA’s recommendation can be found in the final report prepared by Dr. Rose and his team. I urge Council members to inform themselves and be prepared to make a decision before the next election. Please end the “analysis paralysis”, being dismissive of the majority opinions of concerned, committed County residents (members of the Citizens’ Assembly), and spending precious money out of the County’s budget on the question.
    Council, you have sufficient information. Please demonstrate that you are capable of making an informed, rational decision about the right size of Council and the restructuring of the existing Wards.

  4. Doris Lane says:

    I hope council gets a move and reduces its size in time for the next election. I read Kathy’s remarks and cannot find any of them valuable. Remember “Small is beautiful” not the other way around. As a letter writer in the Times said there are only 3 or 4 of the current councillors that would be valuable in a new council. I have found that councillors do not have much interest inthe ward they are elected from and it is my understanding that councillors are suppose to work on behalf the whole county. Councillors should be elected the same as the mayor.
    Candidats should not expect to go house to house or phone everyone. People do not like people at their door or having unnecessary phone calls. Members on the Council now have had an opporunity to make their mark such as Robert Quaiff has but few have.
    Come on council enough is enough make the change now and lets get on with important things and that does not include a new logo or soemthing equally useless.

  5. Ray Hobson says:

    It is time to look at term limits as well.

    Having attended 2/3 CA sessions as a member of the public, I agree with Phil, please read the reports.

    The process was very well designed and all 23 members made significant contributions. In the end, a super majority agreed on 10.

  6. Phil St-Jean says:

    I am 1 of the 24 people chosen to take part in the Citizens Assembly.
    It should be noted that Ms. Vowinkel is 1 of only 4 people in the minority position. 2 held the position that smaller was acceptable but not preferrable and 2 who could not consider any change. Ms. Vowinkel is one of those unwilling to entertain change.
    It should be noted they were the extreme view. As is the norm any more the extremes tend to be very vocal. Just because you’re louder does not mean you’re right.
    The vast majority of the assembly fell in the
    8-12 range.
    81%, a super majority.
    I urge everyone to read the published report so that you can have a more complete understanding of how and why we arrived at our final recommendation.
    I would like to add that I was a member of County Council, 2001-2003. I witnessed first hand the disfunction that 15 councillors + a mayor creates. It’s even worse now.
    10 + a mayor is in my mind the right number.

    I attended the committee of the whole meeting today to hear for myself the debate and subsequent decision.
    Unfortunately I had to leave after 3 1/2 hrs so I did not get to witness the final decision.
    I was happy to hear they finally accepted the report and are moving forward. Finally !!!

    Anyone who sat through the first 3 1/2 hrs. of the meeting would be hard pressed not to see why we need to reduce the size of council.
    It was a fine example of too many cooks in the kitchen.
    At one point some had no idea what they were voting on or how to proceed.
    There were a few who felt they hadn’t enough time to deal with it.
    Come on, councils have been wrestling with this since 2003. This particular edition of council has known for 6 months they would be expected to make a decision in September.

    They have debated. They have researched. They have reached out for public input. They are now going to the public again. Now it is time to accept the recommendations and move forward.

  7. Mark says:

    Judy, I respect your opinion. To agree however one would have determine that well enough is the case. A vast majority of those that were interested enough to cast ballots felt much differently.

  8. judy kennedy says:

    I support leaving well enough alone. Ms Vowinckel’s points echo my thoughts.

  9. Mark says:

    We need to continue to look at improved models that better serve and represent the electorate. I would like to think that a voter from a ward with one councillor had more influence and choice on the other 15 persons sitting at the horseshoe. For those other 15 are making key decisions that affect every ward be it big or small. If you presently live in Ameliasburgh with 3 councillors as compared to Athol with 1 councillor your vote has a lot more significance in council makeup. Your vote means more and carries more weight. At this point I believe having an open slate of councillors to be elected County wide is the most democratic process.

  10. Myrna Wood says:

    As Kathy has explained, we need to keep the system that gave value to our County democracy. Improvements in governing will come from more people standing for election and bringing a broader perspective and new ideas to County culture.

  11. John Thompson says:

    Very excellent points on why the current Council structure does not need fixing, with the possible exception of incorporating Bloomfield into Hallowell.

    Still missing from the discussion is the question of what would the results have been if the previous Council had been a reduced size.

    The prime example of that is that the pre 2006 Council had purchased property and demolished an apartment building to pave the way for a very expensive and unneeded Shire Hall expansion. A smaller Council would no doubt have continued into a 10 million dollar fiasco.

    I am able to say this because I made the motion which led to a reevaluation of this plan and found the 4 million dollar omission in the Staff report which was used to justify the plan. The result of this is that my motion to abort this proposal was approved, with opposition from Councillors who favour a smaller Council.

    I would not have even run for Council if the Ward boundaries were enlarged and I would not have had time for a door to door campaign.

    A smaller Council can be more easily dominated by a few Councillors and Staff as noted in point 5 above. Collateral damage could result so let’s leave well enough alone.

  12. Dave says:

    10 dead head do nothing councillors is definitely better than 15. Some of the Good Old Boys have to go.

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