Not time for lower-tier to talk governance

I find it odd that Highlands East recently debated the composition of its council. As reported in last week’s Highlander, council discussed whether to upend its ward system to make the deputy mayor an elected position. While the intent is good – after all, the public would get its say versus a political appointment – there are problems. As pointed out by CAO Shannon Hunter, it would result in a six-person council because of the current ward structure. That can be problematic when it comes to tie votes. Some suggestions included: electing all councillors at-large and realigning boundaries. This prompted at least one councillor to say he’s worried his ward would be scrapped altogether.

In Algonquin Highlands Monday, during a projects and priorities meeting, Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen – who doubles as warden of Haliburton County – raised the issue of electing the deputy-mayor at-large there. Only Highlands East and Algonquin Highlands appoint their deputy mayors. In Dysart et al and Minden Hills, they are elected. Again, there was talk about how it would affect wards, since there are two councillors in ward two in AH. Would they, too, have to go to a larger council? Again, I tend to agree with Danielsen that electing, as opposed to appointing, the town’s deputy mayor is the right thing to do.

The problem I am having is with timing. Why now?

The County of Haliburton is about to put out a request for proposals for a contractor to do a services delivery review. It’s hoped that RFP will be filled by mid-January with a report due by June of 2020. The County ethos is that they need to figure out who will deliver services first before moving onto a governance review. CAO Mike Rutter and Danielsen have made the rounds of lower-tier municipalities to update them on the process. Rutter has told all four that Michael Fenn, who recently led the regional reviews for the province and has a distinguished career as a civil servant and consultant, is lending them a hand.

Rutter said Fenn, who’s also a Dysart et al property owner, was the one who observed that best practice in good governance is summarized as ‘form follows function.’ That means once decisions are made about the best way to organize and deliver individual services, or to make policy in specific areas, then it will be clearer who should be responsible and how they should go about managing, governing and financing them.

Once the service delivery review is complete, County Council will be in a much better position to decide on an appropriate governance model, Rutter has said all along. So, why in the world would Highlands East or Algonquin Highlands council be discussing internal organization reviews? Following the release of the services delivery review report next summer, County Council will have to decide if they will do their own organizational review in-house, or tender for a governance review. We would hope they would select an outsider. In the meantime, there is no point in Highlands East, Algonquin Highlands, or any other local council discussing governance.

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