I was in attendance at the County of Kings Council meeting Oct. 1. I’m glad I was there, as I’m not sure I would have believed what had happened. A proposal by the Kings Citizens Coalition to have council support pursuing an independent study of regional governance passed at committee of the whole, but was then defeated at council. However, what they did pass essentially ping-ponged the topic back to the Kings Partnership Steering Committee. It had already been on KPSC’s agenda, and that committee was seeking a position on pursuing an independent study of the best governance model for an effective and efficient Kings County. The Towns of Kentville and Wolfville unanimously passed motions to this effect already. Unfortunately, the County of Kings could not take a position; they could not show leadership.
In addition to passing a motion to send the topic back to KPSC without taking a position, council also passed a motion to direct the chief administrative officer to prepare a report. I’m not certain what the report would entail—perhaps it is a study of doing a study. Regardless of this motion’s objective, having a CAO report on a topic that could affect his own employment is a conflict of interest. That is why council was being asked to support an independent study.
The council meeting had great entertainment value as the political gamesmanship unfolded, but as a citizen, it was disturbing. The dysfunction of the council prevented them from taking a leadership role in moving forward. There were a few councillors who were outspoken on the merits of supporting a study, the merits of listening to their citizens and the low risk of a supportive motion. They recognized that this step was only to move forward to negotiating a terms of reference for a study. These terms of reference would need to be amenable to the municipalities involved. And the Province of Nova Scotia would commit a significant portion of the funding for the study if all municipalities were entering into the process in good faith.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of councillors who voted against the motion, but did not have the courage to speak their opinions, so we do not have their thought process on the record. The councillor from District 1 read a prepared statement outlining her opposition to supporting an independent study of governance. I commend her for having that courage. Her statement, though, seemed to be focused on the risk of being swept up in what’s good for Kentville and Wolfville. It came across as an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality that has been (and continues to be) counterproductive for progress and efficiency. This same councillor introduced the motion to direct the CAO to discuss an independent review of governance for Kings County and prepare a report with options and recommendations. This motion was positioned as due diligence, which is a good principle. However, the obvious conflict of interest comes into play. And again, I’m not sure what the real objective of the report would be—why wouldn’t the county’s representatives want to look at the best ways forward for efficiency and effectiveness, and look at this through a lens that is not biased or distracted by self-preservation? Some councillors recognized this, but more clearly did not.
Another councillor opposed moving toward a study because they’ve had previous studies they have not sufficiently acted upon. This is a difficult one to get your head around. Is he saying that if an independent study were undertaken, and a set of recommendations were put forth toward a more effective, efficient and representative governance model, that the County of Kings envisions shelving that report with little-to-no action? Perhaps they have less confidence in themselves than their citizens. With the movement afoot to at least look at this topic, I am certain there will be sufficient pressure on council to act when the time comes.
I’m confident the movement from the citizens will continue and there will be progress toward a better understanding of a more optimal governance model. It is unfortunate that County of Kings Council could not be seen as leaders in representing their constituents. I hope they will come from behind their closed doors and listen to what the people are saying and not continue to stifle progress. We need transparency. We need efficiency. We need to show the world that Kings County is a place to live and do business; not that we have some pockets that are open and others that are not.