Council kills ward boundary review

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By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The size of Chatham-Kent council and current municipal ward boundaries will remain the same at least for the foreseeable future.

At its April 29 meeting, a recommendation from staff to hire Strategy Corp to carry out a $68,000 third-party study on both issues failed following an 8-8 tie vote.

Currently, Chatham-Kent has six wards with 17 councillors, plus a mayor.

Discussions regarding the review were sharply divided, evoking strong sentiment from both sides.

Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy said another review is long overdue.

“I think we should have made these changes 12 years ago,” Bondy said. “There’s too many councillors.”

Bondy said the municipality has changed a lot since 1998 and boundaries and number of councillors deserves a “fresh” look.

Chatham Coun. Brock McGregor agreed the matter should be examined, noting the cost isn’t large compared to the fact council is expected to spend $1.8-billion over its four-year term.

“We’re talking about $70,000 to make sure that we feel the people in the community are represented in the spending of those funds,” McGregor said.

“It’s something that should have been done before and even if we do this, it’s something that should be done again. The community has changed and representation needs to change. Even if we decide not to change anything, we at least owe it to the community.”

It isn’t the first time the municipality has examined the issue. Established in 1998 at the time of amalgamation, the boundaries were looked at by previous councils in 2008, 2011 and 2015 to the tune of some $250,000 to date.

The latest proposal came about following a successful motion from North Kent Coun. Rhonda Jubenville in February.

Prior to the vote, Jubenville said conducting the review doesn’t mean council has to make any changes.

“We’re not making a commitment,” she stressed. “We’re just exploring. I do think we owe it to the constituents in Chatham-Kent to have this review to bring things up to date.”

In his comments, South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson pointed out there are 54 appointed spots councillors hold on various committees, including bodies such as the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority. The number doesn’t include other ad hoc committees councillors may be called to serve on.

“I want people to understand it’s not just Monday nights that councillors deal with,” Thompson said, noting that reducing the size of council will increase the workload and could lead to the need for full time councillors.

While admitting that the demographics of C-K have changed, Thompson said reducing the size of council to 12, for example, could see rural councillors relying on the “benevolence” of urban councillors to get things done in their wards.

Such a change might mean “entire swaths” of the population would go unrepresented, he said. “This is not a road we should be going down.”

Those voting in favour of the review included Jubenville, Bondy, McGregor, Conor Allin, Aaron Hall, Melissa Harrigan, Alysson Storey, and Mayor Darrin Canniff. Against were Thompson, Lauren Anderson, Anthony Ceccacci, Jamie McGrail, Marjorie Crew, John Wright, Ryan Doyle, and Amy Finn. Carmen McGregor was absent and Steve Pinsonneault is away on a leave of absence.

Municipal clerk Judy Smith said it’s difficult to anticipate the costs associated with changing boundaries or reducing council size, but it would have needed to be done before the next election.

However, she said that because council has nixed the idea, no further work will be carried out by administration on the matter.

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