It has been a tough 12 months for Morinville Town Council. In August of 2012, then Councillor Ben Van de Walle took ill and resigned from Council, opening the door to a by-election that placed Councillor Sheldon Fingler in the seventh seat by a 32-vote margin over a largely one-issue candidate.
Three months later Mayor Lloyd Bertschi resigned due to work commitments preventing him from attending meetings or putting in the efforts to the standards he’d long set for himself.
From the remaining six, Councillor Paul Krauskopf was selected as Mayor and served a term of office cut too short by his passing June 30.
The deputy mayor now acts as mayor until the next regular Council meeting, Aug. 27, when Council must decide whom to appoint as mayor until the new Council is sworn in after the general election in October. That is unless Council decides to call a special meeting to make the short-term mayoral appointment sooner.
Through the past year, Morinville Town Council has worked with reduced numbers. Whether through Mayor Bertschi’s prolonged absences due to work or through a reduced number of councillors after Mayor Paul Krauskopf shifted from a councillor’s seat to the mayor’s chair.
With his death and the appointment of a new mayor at some point between now and Aug. 27, Council will cross this term’s finish line with only five members, exactly the number that served on Council when Paul Krauskopf was first elected on Oct. 20, 1998.
Although Morinville has continued to grow over the past 15 years, Council has grown along with it to the point where our Council now consists of mayor and six councillors. While it may be true that many hands make light work, it does not necessarily hold true that more deciders make better decisions.
Under the Municipal Government Act, a town can have six councillors and a mayor, giving Council an odd number to prevent tie votes, which would defeat a motion and hamstring the work of Council.
But does Morinville Town Council need seven members to run a community of 8,569 residents? St. Albert, a community of 61,000, seems to do all right with that number, but do we need the same size Council as St. Albert? We frequently hear of how overstaffed Town Hall and the Morinville Community Cultural Centre are, but perhaps it is time to look at how big Council really needs to be.
What could be effective is for Council to take a lesson from the business world and run a leaner ship with the right people. Elect a five-member Council at large and have that Council select their mayor from within as the Town of Legal does.
On the leadership side, the community benefits because when two solid Council incumbents make a play for the mayor’s chair, the community loses one of the two who had previously brought strong value to the table as members of Council.
From a fiscal standpoint, a leaner Council potentially cuts Council’s own budget by almost 29 per cent. With an annual budget of approximately $250,000, that could result in a real savings to taxpayers of approximately $72,500, which is almost a one per cent tax differential.
But beyond the relative assurance the best of candidates have a seat and four wheels beneath them in Council Chambers, and the real dollar savings to taxpayers, a two-member reduction on Council could increase efficiencies both on administrative resources and in Council discussions and decisions.
While there is no assurance five members of Council would get along any better than seven, anyone who has served on a large committee can attest to the reality that the length of decisions are often directly proportional to the number of deciders with no greater outcome on the matter being decided.
Anyone who has ever served on a committee knows the futility of trying to make things smaller when they have grown large. The common refrain of “We’ve always done it this way before” is like an overplayed song on the radio.
But as we reflect on the governmental future of this community, we can hope the idea of a leaner and meaner Council might take root with those elected to office Oct. 21. Sadly, the time has long passed for the idea to be a reality this election. In order to reduce the size of Council or to change the manner in which a mayor is selected, a bylaw must be passed 180 days prior to the election. Such a bylaw, passed at this stage, would not take effect until the 2017 General Municipal Election.
If Morinville Town Council is to be made up of a group of seven, let us make sure we select seven that will endeavour to work as hard as those the community has lost.