Members and supporters of the Kings Citizens Coalition got up and walked out on Kings County council after council defeated a motion relating to the terms of reference for a proposed review of municipal governance. – Kirk Starratt, www.kingscountynews.ca
By Kirk Starratt
It was a scene of chaos at Kings County council as dozens of members of the public stormed out.
The gallery was filled with members and supporters of the Kings Citizens Coalition on Oct. 1, there to hear discussion of two motions regarding a review of municipal governance.
Council approved the first motion discussed: to add to the Kings Partnership Steering Committee agenda discussion of an independent review of governance in Kings County, including discussion of terms of reference.
However, council defeated the second motion to support an independent review of governance in Kings County, contingent on developing terms of reference agreeable to a majority of municipal units in Kings County, funded by the province and the municipalities involved.
Many members of the public got up and left. Some could be heard to remark, “this is disgusting”, “this is a joke” and “unbelievable.”
Council then approved a motion to direct the chief administrative officer to meet with council to discuss the request from the Kings Citizens Coalition on an independent review of governance for Kings County and prepare a report with options and recommendations. This is to come to the committee of the whole no later than January 2014.
The vote on the third motion, which was put forth by Coun. Kim MacQuarrie, had to be taken a second time because of the amount of chaos in the council chambers when it was read. Some councillors couldn’t hear what they were supposed to be voting on over the noise of citizens leaving.
MacQuarrie said she made the motion because it would give the CAO a chance to discuss the matter with the coalition. She said she wouldn’t have been able to support the motion that was defeated even if it called for all partner municipalities to agree on the terms of reference. MacQuarrie said councillors get staff reports on nearly everything they are asked to consider put there has been no staff report on the proposed regional governance study.
CAO Tom MacEwan said it would be inappropriate for anyone to conclude that the county has said “no” to an independent study of municipal governance. He said it’s quite to the contrary, as the county has put the matter on the Kings Partnership Steering Committee agenda twice.
He said all councils have agreed to discussions at the Kings Partnership Steering Committee. If the terms of reference for a study were agreeable, they would have to come back to the individual councils for approval. He said he isn’t doing a pre-study: he’s going to make recommendations on agreeable terms of reference. He is concerned that if the county funds a study with terms of reference council doesn’t agree with, it’s likely council wouldn’t agree with the conclusion of the study.
“You can arrive in the same place by following different routes,” he said.
Coun. Patricia Bishop said that the tone that has come forward from county council is a lack of trust.
“The damage of demonstrating where our willingness is has been made,” Bishop said.
Coun. Jim Winsor said he was a little saddened. He saw nothing to lose moving forward and asked how often you see so many citizens engaged in municipal governance. He said sugarcoating saying “no” is “making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
Coun. Bob Best added that he was a little disappointed with some of the crowd that left early because he didn’t think they had the whole picture.
Coalition co-chairs have differing views
The co-chairmen of the Kings Citizens Coalition have differing views following Kings County council’s debating of motions regarding a proposed municipal governance study.
During a break following the council votes, coalition co-chairman Dave Ritcey said it was a sad day for the citizens of Kings County to have the second motion defeated and the coalition considered it a setback. Ritcey stayed for the duration of the meeting.
He said they were hoping discussion of the proposed independent governance review could move forward at the Oct. 17 Kings Partnership Steering Committee meeting. However, the matter is now delayed to January, which Ritcey said serves no valid purpose. He said there appears to be some political gamesmanship and backroom politicking at play.
“To the Kings Citizens Coalition, there’s absolutely no validity in having the Municipality of the County of Kings staff, in particular the CAO, have an internal study,” Ritcey said. The coalition would like to see discussion unfold at the partnership steering committee.
KCC co-chairman Gordon Lummis left the meeting after the second motion was defeated. However, he was pleased to learn there was another motion passed and that there would be progress. He said it all ended up in the long run as a positive thing.
“We are moving forward. This is the first of what we hope will be a big progressive step towards our goal of having all our municipalities working together to determine what is best for Kings County,” Lummis said.
Lummis said they are pleased to see that Kings County and the Towns of Wolfville and Kentville have all agreed to begin discussions of an independent review of governance in Kings County and to begin discussions of the terms of reference. Berwick has also agreed to enter discussions. He said change for the better comes one step at a time and they have all taken a big step.
“We are convinced the majority of the public support looking at how we can improve our municipal government. We will continue to work for this and will be interested in seeing the Kings Partnership Steering Committee take a leadership role later this month now that all the municipalities have agreed to discuss it,” Lummis said.
He added that MacEwan had called that morning to arrange a meeting with the citizens coalition.