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Council dual decision a point of debate

14 Jan 2015
By Karena Walter, The St. Catharines Standard
St. Catharines city council’s move to appoint a dual-duty councillor has left a bad taste in the mouths of some longtime members.

A heated debate over the issue Monday night ended in a 7-6 vote to appoint St. Andrew’s Coun. Matt Harris to a regional council vacancy, but not everyone liked the way it went down.

“The decision and the way it was handled does not augur well for the incoming council,” said St. Andrew’s Coun. Joe Kushner Tuesday, adding he thinks the decision was made before the meeting.

He said he wasn’t contacted for his opinion on the dual role, but understands others were.

He said he thinks council should have followed the procedure adopted for vacancies and allowed the runner-up of the regional race with a respectable number of votes to move into the empty spot.

Kushner, who’s held his city council seat since 1976, complained Monday night the first two meetings of the new council have been the worst he has ever attended.

City council had been tasked with filling a regional council vacancy created when Alan Caslin was elected regional chair.

Mayor Walter Sendzik put forward a motion Monday night calling for Harris to fill both the regional vacancy and his city seat in a pilot project for a dual representative.

Sendzik sent an e-mail to councillors and posted a YouTube video stating his position Sunday.

Council had two other, more traditonal options: they could have appointed a person of their choosing to fill the vacancy or called a byelection.

“There’s clearly a split on council, and there’s a political split on council,” said St. Patrick’s ward Coun. Mark Elliott, predicting a frustrating four years ahead.

He said regional council runner-up Kelly Edgar’s name should have been put forward first, and if defeated, other names could have been brought forward and discussed.

He said in his three terms, he has never seen a council divided on what appears to be a pre-determined decision.

He said there was no information given to councillors about the dual role, how its success will be measured and what the long-term cost implications are.

There was also no discussion about whether having fewer voices in the two tiers of council is better for democracy, he said.

“It was very awkward, the whole procedure (Monday) night and it certainly wasn’t normal,” Elliott said.

But St. Patrick’s Coun. Mat Siscoe, who voted for the dual role, said claims of pre-determining the vote were “absolute nonsense.”

“I was frustrated by some of the comments that were made,” he said, referring to Coun. Jennie Stevens saying she felt it was a dictatorship and Kushner’s statement it was the worst council meeting.

Siscoe said as a council, they can agree there are times they are not all going to agree.

“A lot of people have passionate ideas about what direction they want the city to go in. For someone to say their council is overwhelmingly divided, I don’t think that’s true,” Sisoce said.

“I think we’ve had a couple of issues people felt passionately about on both sides of the argument.”

Sendzik said Tuesday he does not believe his council is split.

“There are close votes on many things. Once a vote takes place, the expectation is we move on and we deal with matters of the city as we move forward,” Sendzik said.

“It’s part of the process of governing.”

Sendzik said council will be moving forward with issues dealing with building the city, attracting business and making sure they provide value for services.

He said many of the councillors who voted for the dual pilot project Monday said they spoke about the idea with residents while campaigning for office.

“Those communities and those people that achieve success, they don’t wait for success to find them. They seize opportunities. That’s what yesterday was about,” Sendzik said.

“It was about seizing an opportunity to put forward a small change that could have significant impact moving forward when you talk about governance.”

For his part, Harris said he thought last term’s city council had more of a split than this one.

“I don’t think it’s split. I think it’s healthy to have close vote,” he said. “I’d rather have 7-6 votes than 13-0, the unanimous votes. I don’t know how anything can be truly unanimous.”

Harris said he voted for the position and put his name forward because it was the opportunity to do something new and exciting that could provide better service for residents.

“We have the opportunity to see if it works,” he said. “And the whole goal is to provide better service for the constituents, and if we can achieve that, that’s great.”

But Port Dalhousie Coun. Bruce Williamson said he was profoundly disappointed by the decision.

“We have a process to follow. The core of a democracy is elections and votes. People voted, and now we’re going to ignore those results,” he said.

Williamson said he’s been around for four appointments in which the runner-up was elected to a seat.

“It’s all about this group appointing their pal to the Region. They didn’t want Kelly Edgar there. That’s the long and short of it.”
Last Modified: May 15, 2015 11:57 AM
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