Was anyone really surprised by council’s decision to not ask residents what they think on the concept of cutting the size of council?
How about the fact that only Chatham councillors and one other – East Kent’s David Van Damme – voted in favour of adding such a referendum question on the electoral ballot this year?
Some of the councillors in the outlying areas have said they heard nothing but requests from constituents to keep council as it is. Others said the referendum statement, “Effective the term of Council beginning Dec. 2022, the number of councilors in Chatham-Kent be reduced” was too vague.
To the latter, the question was to gauge interest, not to set definitive reduction numbers. Council could be trimmed to 12, or eight, or whatever, but first off, the idea was to see what the public wanted. That was the intent of Chatham Coun. Doug Sulman when he put forward his notice of motion on the matter.
To the former, this is part of what’s right about council, and unfortunately about what is wrong with council as well.
Councillors should represent the people who specifically voted for or against them; the people of their ward. If they hear overwhelmingly in their ward to vote a certain way, it can easily be argued that’s what they should do. Those are the people who elected them.
But because too few of the wards represent a blend of rural and urban constituents, such a process can skew the voting. Rural and urban needs can at times be vastly different. It’s being able to juggle those needs and do what’s best for the majority of Chatham-Kent that truly matters.
Changing the ward system to give each councillor a mix of rural and urban residents to represent would help provide improved rural-urban balance and understanding. Perhaps, as suggested and sadly dismissed in the past, the base for this could be looking at the municipality as a pie, with Chatham at the centre. Slice it up in geographic pieces that are representative of population. Each piece would have some of Chatham in it, and a lot of rural and small-town in C-K in there as well.
But there should be fewer slices of that pie. For starters, our population has declined significantly since amalgamation. Fewer citizens, fewer councillors.
Council needs to be resized and the ward structure altered, yet 11 councillors can’t see that need.