Council elects to review pros, cons of ward system

The City of Red Deer will look into whether voters should elect a councillor within a specific ward or continue to keep the status quo of electing councillors at large.

The City of Red Deer will look into whether voters should elect a councillor within a specific ward or continue to keep the status quo of electing councillors at large. While the majority of council felt the current system was working, a number of them said on Monday that having administration do a review on the pros and cons of a ward system was beneficial because it would engage the public as to what they want.

A report is expected to return to council in mid 2012.

Councillor Frank Wong said that he found that while campaigning for the 2010 election, there were a number of people saying a ward system was a good idea and as he recalled, newspaper editorials suggested the same thing. So he wouldn’t mind looking into the ward system, where a councillor would be elected to serve one particular area.

And if need be, a plebiscite could come forward at the October 2013 election, he added.

Councillor Tara Veer said she prefers councillors being elected at large because “our decisions are less political because we’re representing all of the community.” But she said a report was a good idea because it would allow for broad community discussion.

“I think there’s a value for the citizens to have access to all the councillors,” added Coun. Dianne Wyntjes, who after hearing more discussion figured getting the report done deserved merit.

Councillor Buck Buchanan said he feels that residents should have their say as well, although he personally feels the status quo is better than a ward system too.

While City manager Craig Curtis questioned whether Red Deer was big enough to create a ward system, Buchanan disagreed, saying his hometown of Brandon, Man. is smaller and it’s had a ward system for many years.

Councillor Chris Stephan said it’s important that the public weigh in on the issue. He added the City of Red Deer, which contracts Ipsos Reid to do an annual survey in May, could poll residents about wards. Administration agreed this could be done.

Councillors Lynne Mulder and Cindy Jefferies had voted to maintain the status quo of having councillors elected at large, but that motion was shot down by the rest including Mayor Morris Flewwelling. Coun. Paul Harris was absent.

“I feel quite strongly that we are better represented by the electorate-at-large,” said Jefferies. “Personally, I think we make better decisions as a collective body.”

Mulder said she’s not sure how many wards the city of 90,000 would have.

“I think we really have to increase our electorate,” she said. “I would rather have (administration) spend their time in other ways. I believe it will become an issue in 10 years, but I don’t think we’re there right now.”

Legislative and Governance Services released a report that looked into how council is paid, what it would take to remunerate them if they went fulltime, the possibility of an electoral ward system, the number of councillors elected, and how councillors can be accommodated at City Hall.

Council agreed to compensate council based on $55,362 annually (representing the combined salary/benefits and per diems for meetings), starting Jan. 1.

Elaine Vincent, manager for Legislative and Governance Services, said this doesn’t mean that council would receive a raise. It just represents what they would on average be paid for the year.

Currently, councillors must fill out forms to say which meetings they attended, so they can be paid. And this is taking up extensive administrative time.

Veer, Stephan and Wyntjes were opposed with the motion.

“Personally, I like the per diem rates because it reflects the workload fluctuations,” said Veer.

Council also voted that the remuneration wasn’t for a “fulltime” council. Currently, they are part time.

“There are a lot of weeks where we work more than full time, where we work less,” said Jefferies,

Flewwelling said that council wouldn’t be going to office hours, but there are times when they are out and about in the community. Buchanan added he’s finding that councillor work involves more than 20 hours a week.

Wyntjes added she’d like to see a review of the mayor’s salary, particularly in relation to Red Deer County where the mayor gets paid more.

Council supported having the Governance and Policy Committee establish an appropriate remuneration strategy for both roles of mayor and council following the 2013 election.

Council further agreed to keep the number of councillors to eight. As well, they favoured a council meeting room at City Hall in the short term, and developing a plan for an office of elected officials to be read post-election 2013.