by Shaun McLaughlin

also published at Shaun on Council

At our meeting on February 19, 2013, Council began a discussion on changing the composition of Council. This is the second time this topic hit our agendas in this Council term, and the fourth time since amalgamation. Will it happen this time?

On February 19, we made no decisions—we simply listened to a comprehensive report from our acting town clerk, Rob Tremblay, on the requirements of the Municipal Act and the case law around changing Council size.
Mr. Tremblay presented 15 possible composition options ranging from 12 members (just add a deputy major position) to 5 members. Most of the options included the creation of a deputy-mayor position.
Residents are split on the issue. The operational review online survey in January found that 49% of residents who answered questions regarding Council are satisfied with the current number of councillors and 58% percent are satisfied with the Town’s ward system. (Changing or eliminating wards is not likely to be moved in this Council term).
Listening to opinions around the Council table, the most popular composition seems to be 7: mayor, deputy-mayor (who also serves as our second County Council rep), and five councillors (Ramsay 2, Almonte 2, Pakenham 1). This is the same format defeated in October 2011, and the most highly recommended format in all past discussions on Council size.
Note: I am not happy with reducing Pakenham ward to one councillor. I believe that all three founding municipalities should have equal representation. A Council size of 8 or 5 would allow for a new deputy-mayor and give each ward equal councillors.
As I said in my last blog post on this subject, I’d support a smaller Council if it created a clear advantage. I strongly favor an elected deputy-mayor instead of appointing one councillor to be our second county rep, as we do now. To get the deputy position, I am willing to reduce the number of councillors—but “how much” is the question.
Those who favor a smaller council claim it would mean shorter meetings. The size of council is not directly proportional to the length of meetings. We recently collapsed our five regular monthly meetings into two. By being better prepared and not talking as much, the two meetings still finish within three hours as the five did before. I do not judge three hours twice a month as long.
A smaller Council would reduce some expenses. A councillor receives about $15,000 in salary and may spend about $1000 annually going to conferences. But, a deputy-mayor would cost (my guess) about $25,000 plus conference expenses. The Town might save $54,000 with a seven-person Council. It is minor but not insignificant.
A smaller Council does mean less expertise around the table. Is that worth a few minutes saved in meetings and less than 1% removed from the tax burden?
In the weeks ahead, Mississippi Mills will have at least one public meeting where you can ask or answer these and other questions.