By Rob Houle, St. Catharines Standard
The maneuvering has started.
“I can tell you the games have begun,” Welland regional Coun. George Marshall said Tuesday about peers rallying support for the position of Niagara Region chair. “It didn’t take long.”
While he has been approached for support, Marshall said he has no interest in the $117,330 a year position.
Current Chair Gary Burroughs, who was re-elected as regional councillor for Niagara-on-the-Lake Monday, has let it be known he is interested in keeping the job.
The first to publicly declare a challenge is West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner, who signalled his intention shortly after being re-elected. He said Tuesday he has been “silently” gauging support and that Monday night was the right time to “let the cat out of the bag.”
“I see some change at regional council,” Joyner said. “I see some people who would have been front-runners, and they’re not coming back. So I figured now is a good time to put my hat in the ring.”
Joyner said he is working on getting a nomination and seeking support.
Joyner was under the impression Tuesday he would be allowed to both serve as mayor of West Lincoln, a part-time job, and regional chair if elected chair by his peers. However, Niagara Region clerk Ralph Walton said that is not the case.
“Based on our review of the legislation, the mayor cannot serve double duty as he or she would be deemed to have resigned from their area municipal council,” Walton said in an e-mail. “A vacancy would be created.”
The rules allowing a mayor to seek the chair’s position were changed in 2003 when then Thorold mayor Robin Davidson sought the position. Until then, only mayors from a municipality that did not have a directly elected regional councillor — Wainfleet and West Lincoln — were allowed to run for chair. Davidson took some heat for her decision to run for chair, as it would have resulted in a by-election for a new mayor of Thorold, which in 2003 would have cost Thorold taxpayers roughly $60,000.
Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn said he was not thinking about a run at the chair job.
“I haven’t thought about that — I’m still picking up signs,” Augustyn said. “I’m so busy picking up signs and thanking people.”
None of the other mayors reached Tuesday said they were interested in the job of chair.
“No, no, no,” Wainfleet’s April Jeffs said. “That’s a big job. I respect whoever wants to take it on.”
Grimby Mayor Bob Bentley said if he was interested in becoming chair, he would have run for the town’s regional councillor position.
“It’s certainly not in my plans,” Bentley said. “And I don’t know that our residents would take that very well, if I were to do that. They elected me to do a job, and I think they expect me to do that.”
Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati is out as well.
“I’m not interested in that position, but I’m interested in making sure it’s filled by somebody good,” Diodati said, adding he has been approached for support.
“I’m going to keep my cards close to my vest until I hear who all is interested.”
While he hasn’t committed to making a run for chair, St. Catharines regional Coun. Bruce Timms, who will enter the next term as the longest-serving councillor, said he is considering it.
“I’m alway interested in that,” Timms said. “Particularly because of the need for a new model of regional government. And the need to pull the team of 12 (municipalities) together in the fashion it respects and values each member of the team.”
Timms favours councillors serving double-duty as city and regional councillors.
Former Lincoln mayor Bill Hodgson, that town’s new regional councillor, said he is interested in becoming chair.
“I have to feel comfortable that … that there’s some support there, and I would also want to have a good feeling that we’re, as a group, we’re prepared to focus in really doing some measured and important things this term,” Hodgson said.
“What I’d like to know is that we have, as a council, we have a commitment to defining and biting off some meaningful actions for the term. And that can be done, I’m pretty optimistic about that.
Although content to represent his town as a regional councillor, Hodgson said “I’m not going to say I’m not interested” in the chair’s position.
Hodgson said he will gauge support over the next couple of weeks.
“There’s a lot of discussions that need to happen,” Hodgson said.
Pelham regional Coun. Brian Baty, who let his name stand after being nominated for chair in 2010, said he would not seek the job this time around, citing health reasons. He said he just recently recovered from injuries sustained in a 2010 fall where he seriously injured a hip and shoulder. Baty and St. Catharines Coun. Tim Rigby said a strong contender for chair was lost when Vance Badawey fell to defeat to David Barrick for Port Colborne’s directly elected regional council seat.
Bob Gale, who topped the polls for regional councillor in Niagara Falls, said he was not interested in the chair position, citing a need for more political experience.
“I have the business experience, but not the political experience,” Gale said.
The new regional council will elect a chair when it convenes for the first time Dec. 11.