By Doug Hallett
City hall should explore the idea of full-time councillors and should also consider some at-large councillors, says a citizens’ committee appointed to review council compensation.
Greg Sayer, the chair of the review committee, told council’s governance committee Tuesday that he thought the city ought to look at some at-large councillors being elected.These at-large councillors, elected by voters all over the city, could be in addition to councillors representing wards, he suggested.
Guelph city council was elected using an at-large system of election from 1929 to 1988. A question that appeared on the 1988 election ballot led to a transition to the current ward system with two councillors for each of six wards.
The citizens’ committee believes there would be benefit in moving to a full-time council and reviewing the make-up of council, says its report to council. It says in reviewing the city clerk’s 2013 annual report, the committee came to appreciate that the “volume of materials to read, the number and duration of various official city business meetings and the timing of these meetings make the option of public office undesirable and cost-prohibitive for someone employed elsewhere full-time.”
The recommendation to study making councillors full-time and to look at council’s structure was endorsed by the governance committee Tuesday and now goes to council’s May 26 meeting.
The citizens’ committee compared Guelph with 16 other municipalities. Six of them – Barrie, Brantford, Chatham-Kent, Hamilton, Kingston and Sudbury – are single-tier municipalities like Guelph. All six have full-time mayors, but Hamilton is the only one of the six with full-time councillors. (The other 10 were all lower tier municipalities, like Kitchener, or upper tier municipalities like Waterloo Region.)
Guelph council has been talking about the possibility of moving to full-time councillors for years. A survey of current councillors, done in the summer of 2012, found considerable support for going full-time and for changing the number of councillors in Guelph.
With a council made up of 12 councillors and a mayor, Guelph had one councillor for about every 10,200 residents in 2012, a city staff report said in 2012. It said a 2008 Guelph study of 31 Ontario municipalities with populations over 60,000 had found that eight of them had full-time councillors. In these eight, the ratio of councillors to residents ranged from 22,600 to 60,800.
Mayor Karen Farbridge said Wednesday that a staff report reviewing the issue of full-time councillors and the composition of council is set to come to the governance committee in July. She said the results of this review process will go to the 2014-2018 council for a decision, which could impact the following council term of 2018-2022.
“I have only seen the workload and expectations of council and the complexity of issues that they deal with significantly increase,” Farbridge said in an email sent in response to a Tribune query. “I support the review.”
Coun. Cam Guthrie, who was first elected in Ward 4 in 2010 and is now running for mayor, has been vocal in the past in supporting the idea of full-time councillors in Guelph.
Asked Wednesday about the citizens’ committee’s recommendation, Guthrie said he looked forward to an investigation of the option of full-time councillors.
“Having full-time councillors doesn’t automatically mean I agree with keeping the current composition (number of councillors), the existing ward boundaries (currently six) or how they are elected (by ward, at-large or a combination of both),” he said in an email sent in response to a Tribune query.
“I believe a corporation as large as the city deserves a full-time focus. A focus on accessibility, on customer service and understanding the inner workings of city hall,” he said.
“In my view it also holds those elected to a greater level of accountability. No longer can a councillor say their ‘other job’ interfered with their commitment to the residents they represent.”
By Doug Hallett