Highlands East council considered whether it would upend its ward system to make the deputy mayor an elected position.

Council discussed an organizational review Nov. 26 made by consultant Savino Human Resources Partners. The report recommended changes including more staff team meetings, the closure of fire halls and making the deputy mayor elected instead of appointed by council.

But chief administrative officer Shannon Hunter said that would not be simple, as that would create an undesirable six-person council under the current ward structure.

Council discussed changing the structure or letting councillors be elected at-large. Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall said he had no issues with making his position elected.

“Would not bother me at all,” Ryall said. “There are advantages and disadvantages of having the ward system … I would not believe in having our council members at large.”

Coun. Suzanne Partridge said she supports an elected deputy mayor and wants the wards to be more equitable.

“We need to realign our boundaries,” Partridge said. “I don’t think we should be voting for all council at large.”

But Coun. Cam McKenzie said though he is okay with the position getting elected, he does not want to see his ward, as the smallest, get removed.

“I can see where this is going. Ward 1, which I represent, is going to disappear,” McKenzie said. “I know we have limited numbers, but it’s kind of a unique place.”

Mayor Dave Burton said he would prefer wards be done away with.

“We still are not amalgamating. We are still territorial with each of the wards,” Burton said. “We are here to represent all the people in Highlands East, not just our wards.”

Council also discussed the consultant’s recommendation to close one or two fire halls. McKenzie said it caused a “firestorm” of concern but Hunter emphasized that the municipality does not need to follow the review’s recommendations.

They also touched on customer service. The review said the municipality should invest in more online and remote options, as well as educate residents about municipal rules.

Hunter said there was some disagreement in the interviews that informed the report. Staff said customer service is excellent while council said improvement is needed.

McKenzie said he hears from people that they get left in “limbo” waiting for replies from staff and there needs to be more done to get back to people quickly.

“Answering a complaint, may not be able to do anything about it, but at least they know we got the message and we’re dealing with it,” McKenzie said.

Council voted to accept the report as information.

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Joseph Quigley is a staff writer with The Highlander. Joseph is always digging hard for news stories and covers all the latest happenings in the County of Haliburton. He believes in the importance of local news, finding more to every story and listening to marginalized voices. When he’s not working on news, Joseph finds himself getting all-too engaged in social media and cheering on his favourite Toronto Maple Leafs.