By Kirk Starratt
Kings County council members have delayed a decision on whether or not to ask the public who should elect the municipality’s top politician.
Council considered a report and recommendations from chief administrative officer Bob Ashley about switching to the mayoral system at the December committee-of-the-whole session. Council voted in favour of the recommendations but decided to table a motion about holding a plebiscite as part of the 2012 municipal elections until January.
Coun. Jim Taylor, who brought the matter forward, said it is not directed against the current warden and there is “no dissention in the ranks.” It’s in response to a request from a number of councillors a couple years ago to explore changing to the mayoral system.
“I’d like to ask the general population what they’d like for 2016,” Taylor said. “A plebiscite might get more people out to the polls.”
Switching to a governance system with a mayor elected by the general public was one of the recommendations made by consultants who conducted an operational review of the municipality in 2010.
Ashley, who conducted the report on his own initiative, told council his report is a very preliminary review and more work is needed. There wouldn’t be time before the next round of province-wide municipal elections in 2012 to make the change at this point. Ashley listed the pros and cons of each system of governance in his report.
“There is no right or wrong,” Ashley said.
However, his conclusion is “over time, the mayoral system is becoming the more widely-used form.”
Deputy Warden Janet Newton asked how council could expect the public to make this decision without any information.
“I don’t think we’re prepared at this point today to say there should be a plebiscite,” she said.
Taylor said they’d have 10 months to inform and educate the public before the 2012 election.
“I don’t really see where the concern is,” he said.
Coun. Wayne Atwater suggested holding the plebiscite in 2014 as part of the next provincially mandated review of electoral boundaries or first asking the public through an informal poll on the municipal website.
The Municipal Government Act specifies once a municipality decides to switch to electing a mayor at large, it cannot go back to having councillors elect a warden. Ashley said a decision to change should be made at least nine months in advance of an election because a move would take time, money and other resources.
Council approved the staff recommendations in Ashley’s report. These included engaging in open public debate on the pros and cons of moving to a mayoral system and moving forward only if the majority of councillors want to learn the public’s opinion on the matter. Given the time and resources needed, and if public input warrants, council should target the 2016 municipal election as the year to make a realistic transition to the mayor system. If 2016 is the target year to make the change, all preparations should be made by 2014 to help acclimatize the voting public and the incumbent council. This would also give potential candidates time to consider running and plan campaigns.
Atwater said council discussed the issue two years ago and the information in Ashley’s staff report could have been circulated a long time ago. Atwater said he believed the matter was “orchestrated” so council wouldn’t have enough time to deal with the matter prior to the 2012 election.
Warden Diana Brothers called a point of order and told Atwater the staff report was prepared “to help, not hinder” and so councillors would have the information in front of them for the discussion.
Did you know:
In Nova Scotia, 19 of the 55 municipalities use the warden system. They are:
County of Annapolis
County of Antigonish
County of Cumberland
County of Inverness
County of Kings
County of Pictou
County of Richmond
County of Victoria
District of Argyle
District of Barrington
District of Chester
District of Clare
District of Digby
District of Guysborough
District of East Hants
District of West Hants
District of Shelburne
District of St. Mary's
District of Yarmouth