Editorial: There could be some reward in creating wards

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Internet commenters are somewhat like potato chips. They come in more flavours than one would reasonably expect and some of them are nothing more than greasy little crumbs at the bottom of the bag. But we immediately delete the greasy ones before the public can read them.

Among the published comments, however, are a wide variety of opinions. Some make little sense. Some make a great deal of sense or at the very least provide food for thought. James O’Brien, a candidate in the 2012 by-election, recently commented on The Morinville News website that Morinville should double the number of councillors to 12 and move to a ward system with two representatives from each.

It offers some solid food for thought.

We see several problems with that. Setting aside the mountains that would need to be moved to make it happen, the length of meetings would certainly increase along with the demands on administrative staff. And there is always the strong possibility neighbouring wards could form pacts to skew voting in order to get what they want.

But perhaps the biggest problem with the idea is the rise of one-agenda candidates or ward apathy. While the 2010 election saw plenty of candidates, the 2006 election period resulted in a Council by acclamation. A lack of interest in South Glens could result in a couple ward councillors whose raison d’être is to build a floral arch over the entrance or perhaps a resident of the Lakes whose sole purpose for running is because she wants stargazing friendly streetlights installed.

Edmonton went to a ward system for the 2010 municipal election. Morinville is not ready for that. Early word on the street is there will be no shortage of incumbent and new candidates for that low figure four-digit salary they all take home, but whomever is elected must be elected from the general population with the general interests of the community at heart.

However, if Mr. O’Brien and I were Councillors, as entertaining as that may be, I’d offer a friendly amendment to his motion. Let’s elect our Council and then assign a ward to them during the annual organizational meeting. Here are the three arguments for that.

First. It already works for the various boards and organizations Council is assigned to. They sit on these groups and then bring the groups information and issues back to Council, advocating for those interests as needed. Switching it up every year gives them a broader understanding of those groups.

Second. It would give councillors the responsibility to really understand an area of town. Although still under 10,000 people, a South Glens resident has very different issues than an Old Morinville resident. Councillor or not, unless you live in South Glens or the Lakes or know someone who lives there, you have little to no reason to go there – yard sales notwithstanding.

Third. It would give residents of those areas one member of Council as a liaison to whom they could bring their concerns and in whom there would be an increasing understanding of the neighbourhood and its needs. There is no opportunity for a recall in a ward system, but if liaisons were part of the annual organizational meeting, a neighbourhood could easily express their desire to reassign or replace that councillor in the second, third or fourth year of their term.

We hope Mr. O’Brien will comment on our friendly amendment in the comment section of this publication. Others are welcome to do so as well. Just no crumby or greasy stuff – we delete that business right away.

-SD

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7 Comments

  1. Stephen:

    I think your “spin” on the ward idea is, in fact, spot on. I must emphasize that existing legislation apparently calls for a Mayor and six (no more, no less) Councillors to govern those Municipalities currently known as ‘Towns’. This legislation, however, does NOT seem to preclude Towns from assigning specific areas within the Municipality to Councillors in a liaison capacity.

    Since the next election will see four-year terms of office, I would even go so far as to promote this “liaison” duty for a two-year term, and these would not be shuffled annually. This would enable Councillors to become considerably more familiar with only two sections of Town vice four. However, since Municipal Councillors are supposedly part-time politicians, I believe they need more time to really get to know those areas to which they’ve been assigned. It would be quite simple to make assignments; perhaps by having each Councillor draw a ward name out of a hat?

    As a start (and realizing that Morinville could eventually very well opt to apply for City status), I think we should move NOW to define the boundaries of six future “wards”. In this way we will be ready, if and when we decide to implement some sort of Councillor liaison system.

    As much as I’ve ranted in the past about ‘voter apathy’, I’m not quite as concerned about the “why” of a candidate running as you seem to be. I believe that a one-trick pony would be outed at the first all-candidates forum, or sooner! While voters may be apathetic, they are anything but stupid!

    You say there is no opportunity for a recall in a ward system. A properly-worded resolution (or, heaven forbid we should need one – a by-law) should be able to sort this out in a real hurry!

    No Stephen, I believe this whole idea has tremendous merit.

    Now – do we hear anything from the Mayor, our Council or the Administration on this issue or are we looking up yet another dead horse’s posterior?

  2. We know not all councillors are created equal. . . . Right!!!
    So I hope my ward is represented by the councillor who is well respected by the other councillors, who is articuliate, who is persuasive, who is a leader, who attends most meetings. That way MY area of town will have the best parks, best roads and sidewalks, best trees and flowers etc.
    That of course means that someone else will get the guy who who does not read his council package, does not attend events, misses meetings, not respected etc.

    . …….and yes we have both those types on council now!!

    At least the status quo looks after the towns best interest as a whole. Resources are spent where needed most.

  3. I have advocated wards in Morinville for years. Presently who do you contact when a problem occurs. I once phoned the office and spoke with a member who did not know where Sunnydale was. So no help there. The Councillor I rely on now is Holmes who has taken a sincere interest in this towns affairs. A ward would certainly provide a member to contact when problems do happen. I strongly support a ward system..

  4. I believe that this is an excellent idea and hope the Councillors reading this news takes the time to have some discussions on this item and maybe write their own comments for all to read.
    Linda

  5. I like the idea of wards and switching things around, but I would suggest an annual change.

    We are all human and as such we tend to become attached (or sometimes vehemently opposed) to what we know. By switching things around, that would give councillors the opportunity to see what their new ward needs. More importantly, it would allow them to get an appreciation for where that ward is in relation to other wards with regards to beautification, infrastructure, etc. By representing somewhere other than just where they live, councillors would then be forced to see how life is on the other side of the street/block/town.

    Great idea.

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