Reducing Council Size--Not!

On October 24, Council held a special meeting to discuss reducing its size. In my opinion, the evening featured one of the best debates I've witnessed since elected. Every member spoke well and eloquently. In the end, the one resizing resolution proposed met defeat, as much to do with process as content.

A smaller Council was one of Mayor Levi's election promises. He wants our numbers reduced from 11 to 7: mayor, deputy-mayor (who also serves as our second County Council rep), and five councillors (Ramsay 2, Almonte 2, Pakenham 1).

At the start of the meeting, two councillors stated they preferred the current size of 11 and five favored the Mayor's formula. Four of us stated we would be willing to consider downsizing but not necessarily to 7.

Councillor Watters explained how a larger Council brought fresh perspectives, diversity and depth of experience to the table. Councillor Edwards believes a larger Council provides more connection points with the electorate and therefore strengthens democracy. Councillor Abbott, a former teacher, drew a parallel with school trustees—their small numbers compared to the populace distances them from residents. Councillor Wilkinson tabled a report showing how the ratio of councillors to people in Mississippi Mills is not grossly out of proportion (as some have said) when compared to other Lanark municipalities. We are in the middle of the pack.

I agree with many statements above (as noted in a previous letter to the editor), but I said I'd support a different Council makeup if it created an clear advantage. I strongly favor an elected deputy-mayor instead of appointing one councillor to be our second county rep, as we do now.

The proponents of 7 claim it would mean shorter meetings. I pointed out that the length of meetings has more to do with how long people talk. You could have a Council with seven gabbers where every meeting ended at midnight. Our current 11 rarely meet longer than three hours, and often finish in two.

The meeting was billed as an opportunity to discuss the composition of Council. We had an opportunity to find consensus on a smaller Council. Unfortunately, the Mayor's formula dominated the debate to the exclusion of others. After about 90 minutes, the Mayor made a motion advocating the 7-member formula. It was defeated 6 to 5.

Our procedural rules state no motion can be revisited in a term of Council unless two-thirds agree to reconsider it. That means a 7-person Council is off the table unless 8 councillors agree to reconsider. At least four of us expressed willingness to discuss 8, 9, or 10 at some later date.

The only valid reason for changing Council's composition, in my mind, is to have an elected deputy-mayor. Meeting length is a weak argument for reducing representation.

We have until the end of 2013 to change Council size to have it in place for the next election.


billflegg said...

I bill flegg live in ramsey and I am all for a smaller council New Ideas you say ,,well I have not seen that and if there is ,it is not acted upon as to many people in council have to much to say .
I think the mayor has a great idea with this and those of concil that are afraid of loseing their job ,well that is progress, it should be put to a vote within the people of mississippi mills and ramsey and packenham ..I left my name as to show you that im not afraid of leaving a comment and having you see who left it
Bill Flegg

Dave Steventon said...

Time wasted if you ask me.
The elected members of council have spoken so put this to bed for goodness sake. Is our mayor going to bring back this issue time and time again until he has a vote in support of his personal desire? This does not seem like democracy to me.
Time to spend more time on issues important to the township.