Richmond votes against public meetings for input on mayoral system

ARICHAT: Councillors denied a motion to spend money on public meetings around the municipality to gauge support for implementing a mayoral system.

During the regular monthly meeting of Richmond Municipal Council last night in Arichat, council voted 2-2 against a motion to hold consultation sessions in 12 communities around Richmond County and ask residents whether they want to keep a warden or a mayor.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Don Marchand told council that staff determined the best course of action was via public meetings in various communities. Marchand said the municipality did provide information in its “Reflections of Richmond” monthly newsletter, comparing the warden and mayoral systems.

According to Marchand, staff decided they would have to identify and book facilities, provide information for the sessions, advertise the times and dates, possibly engage a facilitator, dedicate a phone line at the municipal office to answer any questions from the public, and possibly hold a public information session via Telile. Staff also recommended the printing of ballots for residents to vote at the conclusion of each meeting.

“The reason why we included so many communities, I guess, is we believe the more sessions you have, the more people are involved and the more they’re informed; it’ll give us a better representation of what the people want,” the CAO told council.

Marchand said it would take seven to 10 weeks to hold the sessions at a cost of between $3,000 and $3,500, which includes rentals, food and materials. Because this amount is a non-budgeted expenditure, Marchand said it requires council’s approval.

Once residents vote, the CAO said staff can compile those results and bring them back to council before the December council meeting.

District 4 councillor Gilbert Boucher was skeptical of the cost of the sessions, believing with staff overtime and expenses, that figure will be higher.

“I don’t think you can do that for $3,500,” Boucher remarked.

District 5 councillor Jason MacLean said because this is not a decision to be made lightly, the public needs as much information as possible.

“If we put an effort in to making sure, to the best of our ability, that people have a better understanding as to what exactly that would entail, then I think we’re doing our due diligence,” MacLean stated. “If this is something that the residents of Richmond County want, then in my opinion, this is something the residents of Richmond County should get.”

Deputy Warden Alvin Martell agrees that residents should have their say, but he favours putting the question on the ballot for the municipal council election in October, 2020.

“This would be an opportunity to reach everybody,  at the same time, and at a very low cost to the municipality,” Martell noted. “It would give a true picture of what the residents really want.”

While moving the approval of the expenditure, District 1 councillor James Goyetche responded that voter turn-out has been low during past elections. In this case, with meetings in every part of the municipality and if there is a good turn-out, he said council will have a good idea of what a healthy cross-section of the county wants.

“If you get a turn-out at an election of 40 per cent…  you still have 60 per cent who haven’t said a word.”

Not only will the meetings provide a clear idea of what voters want, Goyetche said time is running out to make a decision.

“We have to get this done before the next election because it’s been an item for the past number of years and I think we have to put it to rest,” he said.

Warden Brian Marchand questioned if Goyetche believed the turn-out at public sessions will be higher than during the election. Goyetche responded that with meetings in almost every community, it is likely many people will attend because they’ve been given every opportunity to participate.

Martell noted that public meetings have not always been productive in the past.

“I’ve certainly seen the kind of reception that we’ve gotten at consultations and it wasn’t very good,” Martell responded, noting that he does not support the motion.

Boucher also did not support the motion, instead he supports putting the question on the ballot during the municipal election, reasoning there will be more information provided by voters than from those attending public meetings.

Before he voted in favour of the motion, MacLean pointed out that council has been putting this decision off for too long and placing the question on the ballot next year will further delay a final decision.

“I do know that this is something that has been discussed prior to the last election,” he noted. “It’s not really just putting it on hold for one more election, it’s something that was already put on hold for this current election, so by putting it on hold again, it’s not like we’re waiting a couple of years, we’re putting it on the back-burner for eight years.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, the warden added that although council seems to favour putting the question on the ballot next year, council still has until January to make a final decision.

“A majority was not for doing anything right now, not having these public sessions, so we’ll wait and see,” Marchand said. “Potentially from discussions, it seems like it will be on the ballot one year from next month.”