By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Sturgeon County Councillor Joe Milligan is taking issue with comments from former Sturgeon County Mayor Helmut Hinteregger that the suggestion to look at the reeve system once again is a cockamamie idea. The former mayor, defeated by current mayor Don Rigney in 2007, made his comments in a St. Albert Gazette article on the subject; however, Milligan doesn’t think the idea is out of line or regressive at all.
Milligan brought forward a motion Mar. 13 to look into removing the position of mayor in subsequent councils. Milligan’s motion sought to direct County Administration to “identify the actions, timing and costs associated with Sturgeon County reverting to a governance system involving seven electoral divisions and seven councillors who choose a Reeve from within their ranks, in compliance with legislation and for the purposes of the October 2013 municipal election.”
That motion was tabled for 30 days with a 5-2 vote of council, and Milligan is hoping the idea will not get lost in the shuffle. “In my own opinion, I think it’s a good idea,” Milligan said of the reeve system. The councillor said he felt Hinteregger’s commentary called for a response, one he drafted to St. Albert Gazette reporter Kevin Ma and shared with MorinvilleNews.com. “I think it’s well worth not just brushing it off.”
In his letter, Milligan said the current mayor and council system means one County division is over represented as the mayor must of necessity come from one division or another. Additionally, Milligan believes a reeve, being duly elected by council, is more accountable to the council. By contrast, he feels an elected mayor is not as responsible to his or her council. “In the mayoral system, the mayor could be elected in a popularity contest and not be answerable to anyone for three years,” Milligan wrote. “The reeve, on the other hand, can be replaced before three years are up. This makes the system more flexible and democratic.”
Milligan’s third point distinguishes between what he sees as the difference between a mayor and a reeve, purely along dictionary definition lines. Milligan’s definition of mayor is great or superior, while reeve is defined as steward. He sees the leadership role in Sturgeon County as being one of stewardship over the next three years as the County deals with resource management and planning. “We do not need partisan politics as implied in the title of mayor,” Millgan wrote in his letter.
The councillor is not sure if the item will come back at the next regular meeting of council. “In 30 days everybody forgets what’s going to happen,” he said. “I haven’t seen the agenda, but hopefully it will be there. It’s supposed to be.”
Whatever the ultimate look of Sturgeon County’s future governance form is; he believes it is up to county residents and not former mayors to decide.
As for himself – he’s for a reeve system.
“This is our first 10-year term in the mayor system, and I don’t think it’s working for the municipality as well as it can,” Milligan said, adding there are few willing to run for council. “Somebody’s got to give up a seat on council if somebody wants to run for mayor. If you have a good person on council and you want to replace them [the mayor], somebody on council’s got to give up their seat to run for mayor. That is a disadvantage.”
But Milligan sees a bigger issue in overrepresentation in one division. “One region’s going to have two representatives because he’s [the mayor] got to come from one region or the other,” the councillor said. “If we had a councillor now that wants to move up, he can’t move up by convincing council; he’s got to convince the whole public, which I find is really a popularity contest. It doesn’t really have anything to do with politics. In the reeve system, he is directly responsible to council.”
Rejects cronyism accusation
Although Milligan was upset by Hinteregger’s dismissing the idea of reverting to the reeve system, the councillor was also disappointed in his comments the reeve system is prone to cronyism.
“Everybody thinks it’s going back to something old that didn’t work, like ex-mayor Hinteregger said – a bunch of graft and corruption in the seven councillors,” Milligan said. “It can happen whether you’ve got a councillor, a mayor, or whoever the hell you’ve got.”
Milligan is hoping County residents will express their opinions on the notion of returning to the reeve system. They can do so by contacting members of Council directly via email or phone. Councillor contact information is located on Sturgeon County’s website at www.sturgeoncounty.ca (click on Government, then Mayor & Council).