Interim Council and Ward Structure Review presented

Filed under: Headline,IN THE NEWS |

– DM may be elected at large

by Sylene Argent

At a special Council meeting hosted inside the Council Chambers at the Essex Civic Centre on Monday evening, consultant Robert Williams, who is working with Watson & Associates Economists LDT., presented the “Council and Ward Structure Review Interim Report.”

The study is being conducted to prepare Council members on making a decision on how the Deputy Mayor position should be elected, and further if the composition of council should change and how Councillors and the Deputy Mayor should be elected in the future.

Council moved to direct Williams to investigate electing the Deputy Mayor at large and directed the consultants, by July, to develop preliminary options to have five Councillors. This would give everyone a chance to respond to those ideas.

That composition of Council could account for four of five wards. Moving forward, Williams said a few different suggestions will be created, including how the wards could be designed, to accommodate Council’s decision.

Currently, Essex residents elect seven members of Council; one Mayor via at large voting, and six Councillors via ward-specific voting. Through a secret ballot, the elected dignitaries select one of the six Councillors to the role of Deputy Mayor. Williams said this is an unusual arrangement.

The interim report highlighted the feedback from the public garnered at open houses that provide information about the file. A questionnaire was also circulated. The events were hosted inside the Shaheen Community Room at the Essex Centre Sports Complex and in Harrow at the end of March.

Williams said around 80 percent, of the round one public consultation survey questionnaire respondents, supported electing the Deputy Mayor in an at-large election.

The report also notes, based on the feedback received from the public consultation survey questionnaire, more than 75 percent of respondents supported retaining a ward-based election system in the Town of Essex.

Williams said there were around 45 respondents. These stats were provided to give Council a sense on what was heard, Williams said.

Councillor Larry Snively was disappointed in the response from the public, and said that feedback was embarrassing.
Essex Mayor Ron McDermott was also disappointed with the survey response. He believes there is nothing wrong with the way the Deputy Mayor has been elected. He said with 45 respondents, why allow the residents to choose when the seven elected members care.

Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche said he would like to see the ward system stay for fair representation. He said it should remain at seven reps and go to five wards with one Council rep for each.

Meloche and Snively said residents approached them about why Council was wasting money on this process.

Councillor Sherry Bondy said the current system of electing the Deputy Mayor is uncomfortable and not democratic. She believes the Town does not give residents a whole lot of say with the ward system as only a segment of individuals elect a Councillor who makes decisions for the entire municipality, but believes that should be reviewed in the distant future.

Councillor Bill Caixeiro moved to elect the Deputy Mayor at large and task Watsons and Associates to determine how to elect five Councillors instead of six in maintaining the current compensation of seven decision-makers.

The motion would eventually be carried, after being brought back to the table. It was originally defeated with a three-three tie. Snively, who originally voted against it, moved to bring it back for consideration.

The study process, Williams explained, is multi-phased. It began in late 2016. It is hoped it will be completed in the summer of 2017, giving Council plenty of time to make decisions on the matter well before the 2018 election.

The report to Council noted any desired revisions or changes to the current ward or electoral structure and boundaries in order to be in place for the 2018 municipal election, will need to be adopted prior to December 31 of this year. Time must also be allowed before that date for any potential appeals.