ARICHAT: Richmond Municipal Council has voted to immediately gauge public opinion to decide whether to elect a mayor or warden to lead council.

During the regular monthly meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on June 20 in Arichat, Chief Administrative Officer Don Marchand reported back to council that municipal staff determined the best way to proceed with the question of having a mayor or warden would be by putting the question to residents on their ballots during the October 2020 municipal election.

“If we did it that way, you’d minimize the expense and you’d maximize the response,” Marchand told council.

If approved in a county-wide vote, Marchand told council they would have ample time to study, debate and decide on the issue prior to the 2024 municipal election.

“Of course, it would still be up to council to decide if they still wanted to proceed with a mayor,” the CAO noted. “Even though you’d get the input from the public, there’s lots of things you’d have to look into before you make that final decision.”

If council does not want to wait until 2020, the only other options are a plebiscite or a door-to-door survey, which would prove costly. There’s also the issue of the timeline, the CAO explained.

“Right now, time is against us,” Marchand told council of the looming January, 2020 deadline.

District 4 councillor Gilbert Boucher supports putting the question to voters during the municipal election.

“In my opinion, I think the more of taxpayers and the public that we hear from, the better it is for everybody,” Boucher told council. “It’s not a decision to be made by 40, or 50, or 60 people. There’s 8,200 residents in Richmond County, I’d like to see a large percentage of those residents have a say in whether it’s a warden or a mayor.”

Because a mayor is a “full-time job,” it will require more compensation than that given to the warden currently, Boucher said.

“If you’re going to look for a mayor, you’ve got to find out what the cost is going to be to the taxpayers of this county,” the District 4 councillor said. “You’re not going to get someone coming in here applying for the job for $20,000 or $30,000 a year. That’s a full-time job, it’s not a part-time job.”

He added that this is a “one issue” question and once clarified, the municipality will get the participation they are seeking.

District 1 councillor James Goyetche said the people have already spoken that they want a mayor-at-large, during the boundary review process five years and again during last year’s strategic planning process. He asserted that those who responded to those surveys were very engaged citizens.

“I don’t know where we’re going with this,” Goyetche told council. “This has been discussed over and over again.”

Using the Web site and media, Goyetche argued that all attempts should be made to put the question to the public before the election. With the deadline in January, he asserted there is ample time.

“All you got to do is put the question out there,” the councillor said. “Please respond, let us know do you want the warden system or do you want the mayor system? You have a deadline to respond. It’s not going to cost any money at all. We have a Web site here, we have Telile, we have The Reporter, we have all means of advertising. We even have our ‘Reflections of Richmond,’ what’s wrong with putting it there… You don’t have to spend any money and let’s find out what the public wants. If you wait until 2022, something will happen at that time again.”

District 5 councillor Jason MacLean wants to take the public’s temperature as soon as possible before the next election.

“I think that we initiated the conversation, and agree that the response certainly wasn’t overwhelming but the majority of the people that did respond to that specific question were in favour of a mayor system,” MacLean told council. “So I do think that it’s time to put that measuring stick out there for the public and see what it is that they want, and as councillor Goyetche said, people who are interested and want to chime in on this, can say either yes or no to that question, and we should be able to find a way to do it that doesn’t cost very much money.”

Deputy Warden Alvin Martell supports providing the public with information as soon as possible.

“Somehow I think that we need to put some information out there,” Martell told council. “Richie [Cotton] spoke at our last meeting at Question Period and I think it’s very important that people realize the difference between both and what kind of commitment it means to go from warden to mayor, because if you go to a mayor, you can’t go back. And there’s not a lot of difference between the duties of the warden and mayor. The only thing you get is elected by the people instead of your peers, but I think people need to know that, need to know a lot of information before they can make a sound decision.”

Warden Brian Marchand supports putting the question on the ballot in 2020, and in the meantime, getting information out to the public, using some of the means identified by Goyetche.

“Somehow, we need the people deciding, it’s just finding the best way,” the warden said. “Not everybody is on the Web site or Facebook page. And then you’ve got to monitor and make sure people are doing it three times and four times. So I wonder how good that would be, but definitely we’ve got to get the information out to people, as councillor Boucher suggests. The cost, are there any differences, if there’s any differences, what they are? What are the pros and the cons?”

Goyetche then made a motion that council proceed with the question of mayor or warden and make an application to the province once the public decides before the January 2020 deadline.

In discussing the motion, Goyetche told council wardens are paid “way more” than mayors across the province, with minor exceptions.

“I want to make sure everything is done before January,” Goyetche said. “We have time to make application in order to be within the timeline before the election in 2020.”

The motion was approved.