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Former supporters of downsizing ask council to rethink another trip down expensive rabbit hole

UPDATE: Following much discussion on how much focus the motion is on governance and planning for the future, as opposed to focus on council size and ward boundaries, council agreed, in an 8-5 vote, to direct the CAO and clerk to: develop a terms of reference and report outlining the guiding principles, scope, timing and cost of a possible third party review of the County council governance structure.
And also that the report build on the research and public feedback gained in the 2013 size of council review and citizens assembly, and the 2015 size of council review; and, that the report also identify options for robust public consultation and engagement process, and return to Council no later than June 2023.

In favour of councillor Chris Braney’s motion were: Mayor Steve Ferguson and councillors Bill Roberts, Phil St. Jean, Sam Grosso, Sam Branderhorst, Corey Engelsdorfer and Kate MacNaughton. Opposed were councillors Roy Pennell, Brad Nieman, David Harrison, John Hirsch and Janice Maynard.

Some in opposition spoke to agreement and support of further governance reviews in light of population growth expected over the coming decades, and continued work on improving interactions and transparency with the public, but did not approve of further time and money spent on size of council and ward changes discussions, preferring council and staff focus on more pressing, immediate issues such as housing, doctor recruitment and roads.

Those in favour spoke to supporting a report on options, process and community consultation in light good  planning for the future – even whether that means, as a couple pointed out, an even larger council, due to population growth projected for Picton and Wellington over the coming years.

Councillor Braney pleaded with his peers to support the report to “look at everything” and “look at it from all angles”.

* * *

Former supporters of downsizing ask council to rethink another trip down expensive rabbit hole

A proposal by a new councillor to study council governancce, size and ward structure is not being supported by strong advocates of the idea in the past.

Hiller councillor Chris Braney, earlier this month, announced a notice of motion he plans to put forward March 14 to seek support to review the current governance of council – at 13 councillors plus a mayor.

Gary Mooney, whose plan was runner up to the chosen new system, and John Thompson, whose winning suggestion reduced council to 14 members and nine wards in 2017, both ask council not to initiate change, or go through the very expensive process.

“I have now seen the error of my ways and have teamed up with former councillors Monica Alyea and John Thompson, major contributors to County life for decades, who led the opposition to downsizing the last time around,” states Mooney. “We’re opposed to any downsizing of council or restructuring of County wards.

Thompson, in his deputation for tonight’s meeting, notes the original composition of council was untenable “not because it was too large as such, but because reasonable representation by population is a key requirement. This issue was solved by combining Bloomfield with Hallowell and reducing Sophiasburgh to one councillor.

“This resulted in a reduction of two council positions. In other words, there was a need to achieve voter equity that resulted in the reduced council size rather than a need for a smaller council. This is why we now have 13 councillors. The number was not just picked out of thin air.”

Thompson and Mooney agree effective representation of communities defined by former township boundaries, is also a key requirement – and is more important than exact representation by population.

“This was made clear at the Ontario Municipal Board hearing of 2017 where the appeal of council’s position was denied.”

Thompson recommends “council not proceed down a long and expensive rabbit hole which is unlikely to result in any change or improvement. Council size has been reduced, communities of interest have been maintained, voter equity has been established. These were all confirmed when an expensive OMB appeal was denied. It’s time to drive on.”

Mooney adds that if another referendum was required in 2026, any changes could not be implemented until after the 2030 election – eight years from now.

Mooney, a retired actuary, was also involved in the initiatives to reduced council size for a decade, starting in 2008 and continuing through 2017.

“If you ask 100 people on the street about council size, 80 per cent (might) say “too large” and “should reduce”, but that’s an instant reaction, maybe not well thought out,” states Mooney.

He suggests there are few good reasons for downsizing, and many for maintaining the status quo.

“The reason I hear most often in favour of downsizing is that having fewer members of council would be more efficient. But more important than efficiency is effectiveness in meeting the County’s interests and needs.”

He believes that the reduction after 10 years, and only in effect after the 2018 election, that “its way too soon to revisit this issue. In fact, in my all-candidates survey prior to the 2022 election, eight of 14 candidates indicated opposition to downsizing.”

Among his reasoning for status quo, he states “changes would likely disadvantage the rural wards more as compared to the urban areas of Picton and Wellington. In the all-candidates survey, while all three elected candidates in the urban wards of Picton and Wellington favoured downsizing, only three of 10 in the rural wards did so, suggesting concerns.”

He added reduced size “would increase the ante for getting elected: fewer seats and larger areas, involving more time, volunteers and cost. These factors would make it more difficult for residents with modest resources to run successfully for council.”

Both noted dealing with the downsizing issue would also divert attention and steal resources from other, more important priorities, including affordable housing, infrastructure renewal, residential development, tourism management, poverty reduction and doctor recruitment, to name a few.

Click here to see their full deputations and reasoning. Council meets tonight at 7 p.m. at Highline Hall in Wellington, and will be livestreamed

Click here for more on the history/timeline of investigating council size

 

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  1. Julia says:

    downsize. 5 to 6 counselors plus a mayor. Done. we are way overrepresented. And the public should vote not counselors.

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