Consultant to review C-K council’s composition

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By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

When it comes to Chatham-Kent council, size matters.

So do boundaries and proper representation of rural and urban residents.

That was the collective decision of council Feb. 26, following a lengthy discussion on a motion brought forward by North Kent Coun. Rhonda Jubenville.

The motion, decided upon after a couple of friendly amendments, directs a third-party consultant to examine various options for the makeup of council in the future, possibly redrawing C-K’s ward boundaries. At present, council has 17 councillors representing six wards, plus the mayor.

In her original motion, Jubenville sought to decrease the number of councillors to 12 but that detail was walked back after fellow Ward 4 Coun. Jamie McGrail said the municipality shouldn’t be giving the consultant a directive.

“I’m a little worried telling the experts what to do,” McGrail said. “I think we should leave it open for the expert’s opinion.”

Jubenville said she brought the matter forward as it was something she heard repeatedly on the campaign trail. She also compared C-K council to London and Windsor, which have 12 and 10 councillors respectively. She also used the example of Greater Sudbury. It has a larger landmass than Chatham-Kent and a population of 166,000 residents compared to C-K’s 104,315. The northern Ontario community has 12 part-time councillors representing 12 wards, plus a mayor.

“I feel we need to do better as a council formation to reflect our unique situation and move forward with a better plan to eradicate the rural/urban divide that exists in Chatham-Kent,” Jubenville said.

South Kent Coun. Ryan Doyle, who seconded the motion, said his constituents also brought up decreasing the size of council when he was campaigning.

While some councillors, as well as Mayor Canniff, agreed council should periodically examine its governance similar to the provincial and federal governments, others were strongly opposed.

Veteran South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson said that while he thought the motion was well intentioned, it doesn’t do anything to “alleviate the issues.”

When asked by Thompson, how much it would save taxpayers by cutting five councillors, municipal clerk Judy Smith said it would save the average C-K resident $4.50 a year.

Thompson noted that while cities such as Windsor have a larger population, its landmass is small compared to Chatham-Kent.

“This is a big council, I won’t deny that,” he said. “There’s a lot of different views. That’s because we’re so geographically separated from each other.”

Figuring out boundaries to include representation by population (45 per cent of C-K residents live in Chatham) with a blend of rural/urban voters in each ward would be challenging, he added, but agreed the municipality does need to examine the issue from time to time.

Prior to amalgamation, Thompson said the area was represented by 45 politicians.

Another downside of a smaller council, he said, is that it makes its easier for politicians to consolidate votes and power.

“It’s a lot harder to wrangle 17 of us, isn’t it?” Thompson said, noting the “more eyes” you have on an issue, “the better.”

East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault, whose ward is the largest geographically in C-K, said blending rural and urban wards could lead to a Chatham-centric vote, calling it a “recipe for disaster.”

“I go to all the events and it’s a lot of area to cover and if it ends up being one person covering the whole thing, you will end up with a full-time councillor,” Pinsonneault said. “There’s no cost savings.”

Split into two after plenty of input, the first part of the motion narrowly passed in an 8-6 vote. It stated that a consultant reviews the existing size of council membership to decrease the size of council, providing various options.

The second half of the motion, which passed 11 to 3, said the review should include consideration of respecting communities of interest, and options to ensure both rural and urban voices are represented and included in each ward, as well as other potential options taking into account community consultation and best practices.

Council also heard that time is of the essence, as the report and recommendations would need to be in place before the next municipal election in 2026.

Several councillors agreed the undertaking won’t save any money. According to chief administrative officer Michael Duben, the most basic review will cost around $60,000.

Jubenville isn’t the first councillor to raise the issue. Downsizing the number of C-K councillors, has come before elected officials a few times since amalgamation in 1998.

C-K administration will begin the process of finding companies that do the type of work required.

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