Shaun McLaughlin

by Shaun McLaughlin

There are two parts to the debate on Council composition: Council size and whether to include an elected deputy mayor. My opinion—in the briefest terms—is that I strongly support creating the deputy mayor position, but am less concerned about the number of people at the table. Here are my reasons.

Deputy Mayor
Mississippi Mills has two representatives on County Council, the body to which we send 35% of your property taxes each year. The mayor is an automatic choice as one rep. Each newly elected Mississippi Mills Council chooses the second rep for a four-year term by secret ballot. I believe taxpayers should elect all representatives who sit on County Council; otherwise, there is no direct accountability. An elected deputy mayor would be the second County Council rep and serve as an alternate on a variety of committees and functions when the mayor is unavailable.

Council Size
There are arguments in favor of both a large and smaller Council. In the Millstone News, Councillor John Edwards made a credible argument for the democratic value of a larger Council.

As I have stated before, a larger Council brings more talent to the table. At present, our eleven-person Council includes experts in business, law, construction, security and telecommunications. Their presence has often meant that technical questions were answered immediately instead of Council needing to wait for staff to research the question or to pay experts for the answer. Granted, some of that talent would remain on a smaller Council.

A smaller Council “may” lead to more focused meetings. (I say “may” because seven verbose elected reps can talk as much as eleven.)

When most members of the current large body feel the need to speak to every agenda issue—often more than once—meetings do tend to drag on. Many Council meetings exceed three hours. Councillors get grumpy, sleepy, hungry and impatient. Some decisions get rushed and there is no opportunity for a relaxed exchange of opinions. At our meeting September 3, where only eight members were present, Council sped through the agenda in two hours and had time for an informative exchange of town news and views.

Note: In a post two years ago I stated: “Meeting length is a weak argument for reducing representation.” I have changed my mind. When we switched this year from five regular meetings per month to just two, the fatter agendas made long meetings the norm instead of the exception.

Conclusion

Two options before the public on Council size and composition include a deputy mayor: one would have a ten-member Council and the other just seven. For proponents of a large Council, the ten-person option would offer all of the benefits and drawbacks of the current size.

I will not support the two options that exclude a deputy mayor, unless the public surveys overwhelmingly favor those options. My decision on Council size will be based on the results of the survey. If those results are split evenly or are ambiguous (i.e. not enough public input), then I will vote in favor of the seven-member option.