By Jennifer Hoegg
Should Kings County voters decide whether they have a warden or a mayor?
Seven months after county council approved staff recommendations to look into the possibility of deciding by 2014 on whether to switch to a mayoral system, an agenda item on holding a plebiscite on the issue resurfaced at a July 24 committee meeting.
Recommendations from late 2011 were for staff to engage in an open public debate on the pros and cons of moving to a mayoral system, moving forward only if the majority of council want to learn the public’s opinion on the matter.
“There is no decision whether to hold a plebiscite or not” during the 2012 election, CAO Bob Ashley said, and something like this must be decided 10 weeks ahead of the October vote, due to the time and resources needed.
“I’m not recommending it,” Ashley said “What council talked about was (looking at the issue) in conjunction with the boundary review, which would be in 2014. I feel it would be better to integrate the question of the mayor versus warden with the boundary review.”
A mayor is elected at large, while a warden is chosen from among elected councillors. The choice might seem simple, but Ashley said there could be “complex consequences.”
“It’s a radical departure from what we are doing now,” he said. “People should know both the pros and cons before they approach the ballot … and it should be combined with a debate on the number of districts.”
Ashley also expressed concern a ballot question would create campaign issues for candidates. He suggested a graduate student from Dalhousie University be enlisted to research the issue.
Coun. Jim Taylor said he doesn’t see anything wrong with debating the issue, saying that the public deserves that opportunity.
“I have seen a polarizing that takes place in the warden system and that tends to put some councillors at a disadvantage and makes some councillors uncomfortable,” he said.
“I don’t understand the need for all the research the CAO is calling for,” he added, pointing out most municipalities in the province have mayors.
Warden Diana Brothers ceded the chair and stepped into the debate, telling council in previous reviews of the county system, the warden position was maintained and there are many outstanding questions about how changing to mayor would impact the municipality.
“Do you have any idea what you would pay the mayor? No, you don’t. Do you know how many councillors you would have? No. Eleven? Eight?” Brothers said. “These are just questions. In terms of your towns, just because it’s done (with a mayor system) there is no research to say that’s the best way.”
After citing statistics on they number of representatives in the province's towns versus rural municipalities, Brothers said she didn’t think taxpayers wanted more government.
Once the county moved to the mayoral system, she said, they wouldn’t be able to go back.
“Sometimes the motives around this issue are questionable in my personal experience,” Brothers added. “In the past two years since I have been warden I don’t know how many times we spoke about this. A lot.”
Coun. Dick Taylor suggested waiting another four years – when the public can be informed and it’s fair to everyone – might be the best course of action.
“After we elected our first warden woman in the county that subject was brought up,” Coun. Dick Killam said. “I thought that was a kick in the head… I believe that was not the time.”
Brothers added that council didn’t say it wouldn’t do the review – just that it would come with a review of the districts.
Here's what else the councillors had to say on the issue:
“If we go from a warden to a mayor, let’s do it properly.” Coun. Mike Ennis
“It seems a little bit premature to jump to that… I don’t think any decisions need to be made about that right now.” Coun. Patricia Bishop
“I would be more interested in running for mayor next election than for council… but the problem is I don’t know what it consists of.” Coun. Dale Lloyd
“I would like to move forward to do something with this now and bring it in. I think most people know the difference between a warden and a mayor…I would rather see the general public make the decision.” Coun. Eric Smith
“I get the impression sometimes we’re getting a bit paranoid here. All I want to do is debate the subject. If it takes four years to do that, it’s fine. I’m not head hunting here and I don’t think anyone else is.” Coun. Jim Taylor
“Now we’re told they don’t have time… everything we want to do around here, it’s too late, we don’t have time.” Coun. Fred Whalen