Published Dec. 1, 2016
As she chaired her final county council meeting as warden for 2016 last week, Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt tabled a report suggesting that during the final two years of the current term, council at least have a conversation about potential changes to the framework of council itself.
Particularly the role of warden.
And while there are potential complications with some of her suggestions, it is a conversation worth having.
For anyone unaware, Haliburton County council consists of the reeves and deputy-reeves of the county’s four lower-tier townships. Each year, council appoints from among its membership an individual to serve as warden, or head of county council. Traditionally, there has been some rotation of the position among the four lower tiers.
It’s a tradition that Moffatt would like to see end.
Her report asked council to consider the elimination of “pre-arranged succession and the rotation of the municipalities and instead develop a job description for the role where in the best candidate will get the job regardless of their home municipality.”
Other considerations were extending the term of warden to two years for the purposes of consistency (with an extension on that term up to council), or the creation of a ninth position on county council, a warden selected by the general public during municipal elections who would serve as head of council for a full four-year term.
“A reeve giving their best at the lower tier is challenged to do the same at the county level so what, if anything, should we be doing to facilitate what’s best for the community in the greater global picture?” Moffatt’s report read. “There are increasing challenges with competing interests; increasing needs; reduced grants; strategic planning; downloading; increasing regional competition; the broad work of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (where we simply aren’t participating enough); and the escalating need for lobbying our position at the provincial and federal level.”
There’s certainly merit in these statements and it’s certainly true we’re now in an era where municipalities, particularly rural ones, more and more have to loudly lobby upper levels of government for resources.
While some may see Haliburton County as a single community, others see it as a collection of four communities. Were a ninth seat added to county council and the role of warden decided by election, certainly some residents would vote based not on who they think could best fill the role, but on what lower-tier township candidates come from. A Minden Hills voter, for instance, may feel it’s advantageous for Minden Hills if the warden is from Minden Hills. Since the populations of Minden Hills and Dysart et al townships far outweigh those of Algonquin Highlands and Highlands East, it’s possible that under such a system, the warden would, most times, end up coming from one of those two townships.
Another risk with such a system, as Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey put it last week, is that the county winds up with a “dud” of a warden, that dud then in the warden’s chair for four years.
Another complicating factor is the financial piece. Are county residents OK with adding a ninth member to council, a position that, with salary, benefits and mileage included, would likely cost at least $100,000 per annum? This at a time when the City of Kawartha Lakes, with a year-round population about five times that of the county, is decreasing its council size from 16 to eight.
All things to be considered. But certainly, the conversation should take place.