The committee refers the question of the composition of the county council to the council of the next term
The Simcoe County Governance Committee has decided to close the book on their work on a council structure change for the time being, opting to let the 2022-2026 council turn the page on any future changes.
Simcoe County councilors are set to increase the size of the county council by one member from 32 to 33, possibly starting next term, opting for a full-time, unelected director at the helm. However, choosing to appoint rather than elect a director is against current legislation available to Simcoe County, so before settling other details of the change, the county must first obtain permission from the province to proceed.
SEE MORE: County councilors mull future plan to appoint unelected manager
At the January 13 Governance Committee meeting, the committee received a letter from the province and a legal opinion providing clarification on the matter.
Independent legal advice was provided by John Mascarin of Aird & Berlis LLP at Simcoe County. During the meeting and in the staff report, County Clerk John Daly said the legal opinion suggested that the legislative framework does not exist to permit the appointment of an unelected resident.
However, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing issued a different opinion.
“As for the method of selecting your head of council, the Municipalities Act allows upper-tier municipalities to change the makeup of their councils, including whether the head of council is elected by popular vote or appointed by members. council,” Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark wrote to Reeve George Cornell in his correspondence.
“This means that municipalities, including Simcoe County, are generally able to revise their council composition to better suit local circumstances, without requiring changes to provincial legislation.
According to county staff, attempts to further clarify the information with the department were unsuccessful.
“It has left us, as staff, very insecure between two opinions. Accordingly, staff are not recommending a change in the composition of the board,” Clerk John Daly noted in his report to the committee.
Currently, Simcoe County Council is made up of 32 members: the mayor and deputy mayor of the 16 member municipalities get a seat at the table, with the positions of director and deputy director being elected from these ranks. Under the new model envisioned, all 32 members would still get one seat, however, a director would be appointed to represent them, voted on by all 32 members.
The issue of board composition has been particularly contentious in recent years, with the full board rarely reaching consensus. The option of reducing the number of councils overall was rejected at the council table, as was the option of having regional councillors.
Before changes can be made to the composition and size of Simcoe County Council, a triple majority approval is required.
Triple majority approval requires:
- A majority of all county council votes must be cast in favor of the change;
- A majority of the councils of the 16 lower-tier municipalities must have passed resolutions consenting to the change; and
- The population of lower-tier municipalities that pass resolutions consenting to the change must constitute the majority of voters in Simcoe County.
Clerk John Daly said all of these factors combined make it difficult to see a path to approval of the changes by the end of this council term.
“I think we’re at the end of that process, honestly,” Daly said. “I think we would rush hoping that the lower tiers can sort it out.”
Deputy Warden and Mayor of Innisfil Lynn Dollin noted that it would be inappropriate to continue discussing the changes during an election year.
Springwater Deputy Mayor Jennifer Coughlin said she fears all the work that has been completed on the issue will be set aside by the next council.
“We have made significant progress and I would be remiss to just put it on the shelf,” she said. “We have reports that die with a term on the council. How can we make sure this keeps moving forward? »
While Daly added to the recommendation that the next board continue the work, Dollin noted that the committee and staff cannot be seen as leading the board’s next term.
Tecumseth’s new deputy mayor, Richard Norcross, agreed he didn’t think there would be the political will in an election year to secure triple majority approval.
“I’m disappointed. I wish that had happened. We’ve made great progress. I’m afraid we’ll have to backtrack if we present it now,” he said.
The committee voted to receive the report and considered the matter closed for the 2018-2022 term of the board. They also voted in favor of sending the file to the 2022-2026 council.