July 24, 2013

Mayor needs to talk less so council can do more

As published in The Erin Advocate

When 11 pm finally rolled around at last week’s council meeting, and they were only half-way through the agenda, it was obvious that this council has some serious problems.

Getting through a 220-page agenda package efficiently requires that valuable time be used only for items that really need it.

Councillors have an absolute right to speak about items they vote on, and in some cases they do not say enough about where they stand on important issues.

Mayor Lou Maeiron, however, often has so much to say that it obstructs the operation of the council.

This is an opinion formed from several years of observation, and is not intended as an insult, or a criticism of his character or views. Politicians have to be free to play their cards however they want. But when business bogs down to an embarrassing state of disarray, the public should demand the exercise of good judgement from all involved.

The Code of Ethics notes that the head of council should be providing leadership, presiding over meetings in a way that “business can be carried out efficiently and effectively”.

The mayor does take his leadership duty seriously, with many valid points to make and excellent questions to ask. He does care about controlling costs, being accountable to the public and delivering good value.

But when meetings become dominated by him and his views, constant arguing over procedures, rehashing old decisions, refighting battles from years ago and side trips into issues that don’t directly concern the Town, efficiency goes out the window.

The mayor is not the cause of all the wrangling. Other councillors and staff like to put their own spin on things, as humans naturally do, but they seem to do it with fewer words. How can there be a cooperative atmosphere when people are constantly pissed off?

It was a heavy agenda last week, with only one meeting scheduled per month in July and August, and 21 reports to discuss and vote on. Maybe we do need to move to a system (promoted by the mayor) where committees do most of the work, with council ratifying or rejecting recommendations.

Here are some of last week’s time-consuming extras:

• While the delegations watched with glazed eyes, council started with a long argument over agenda preparation and previous minutes.

• The Activity List was discussed at length, trying to manage the to-do lists of department heads. The mayor pushed for a quick report on switching to a ward system, with a new bylaw by December 31, the deadline if the change is to affect the next election.

• Businessman John Gainor appeared, asking what Erin is doing to attract Chinese investment. This allowed the mayor to tell stories of his recent trip to China.

• The skatepark project, the subject of numerous reports, was reviewed again. The mayor portrayed it as substantially over budget, while staff and other councillors did not.

• There was an update on the Station Road Dam and Bridge. If the Town does not have a repair plan ready by next June, the province could force the work to be done levy a $1 million fine. The mayor held up a big map and showed how the Town might close the road, creating dead-ends at the bridge, and build a new bypass road along the Elora-Cataract Trail starting at Trafalgar Road. The topic was shelved.

At the 11 pm curfew, there was not unanimous consent to continue. They didn’t even sit at the table to pick a date for a follow-up meeting. They milled about and didn’t announce a date until after all members of the public had left. Here are a few of issues that were deferred:

• Hiring an Integrity Commissioner to investigate the recent alleged violation of the Council Code of Conduct.

• Passing bylaws to appoint a Town Clerk and a Drainage Inspector

• Holding a closed session to review cost overruns at the new Fire Hall and get advice on potential litigation. They paid their lawyer to sit waiting for over two hours for this session.

• Appointing members to the Mill Pond Ad Hoc Committee

• Holding a series of 6-10 Community Consultations on various themes, possibly costing $1,000 each, in order to get input for completion of the Town’s Strategic Plan.

The Code of Conduct also says, “Members shall encourage public respect for the Town”. That’s a tall order, but they could start by getting their act together at meetings.