By Kalinowski, Tim on November 26, 2019.
Lethbridge City Council voted 5-4 to reject a motion brought forth by its own Open and Effective Government Committee to examine the possibility of bringing in a ward system into municipal politics.
Coun. Mark Campbell brought forth a motion on behalf of the OEGC members to council on Monday to examine the issue at the City’s Citizens Assembly for a proposed price tag of $80,000.
Coun. Joe Mauro balked at both the proposed price tag of such a study and the notion the current at-large system was not representative enough as is.
“Anybody in the community can pick up the phone and talk to any one of us,” he said. “I think we are very open and approachable. We’ve been like that as long as I have been here. I know some of the taxpayers might not feel that, but we are very open and very approachable. Right now, I don’t see an advantage of going to a ward system, and surely at the price of $80,000 I am not prepared to support that today.”
Other councillors echoed Mauro’s cost concerns with undertaking such a study; especially when council was informed the cost to undertake a referendum on the issue during the next general election would only run about $10,000.
Mayor Chris Spearman favoured taking such a question to the community in that format rather than having Citizens Assembly undertake the work at substantially higher cost.
“I favour a referendum at election time,” he confirmed. “If people care enough to come out and vote for council, they should also be entrusted to express their view on any future ward system.
“I think there are complex, political nuances that a Citizens Assembly would not be able to address effectively. I think those are a responsibility for council.”
Campbell said he was disappointed the majority of council rejected the OEGC recommendation, but hoped the issue might be revisited in another form.
“We never said ‘let’s do a ward system,'” stated Campbell. “It’s all about ‘let’s look into the possibility of what a ward system would entail.’ That was the recommendation of the OEG. We were asking how relevant it is to have a ward system compared with other jurisdictions to see if it would work in Lethbridge.”
Campbell acknowledged the study request came out of concerns from citizens who would like to see their area of the city represented on city council, and to have a dedicated councillor working toward their interests and on their problems as a community.
“Last election there was 32 people (running for council). The question is: ‘Boy, that’s a lot of people that don’t really get heard.’ Whereas in a ward system you have fewer people running in the specific areas, and perhaps they have a better chance to have their opinions heard.”
The narrowly defeated motion divided council, with Spearman and councillors Mauro, Jeff Carlson, Rob Miyashiro and Blaine Hyggen voting against. Councillors Campbell, Belinda Crowson, Ryan Parker and Jeff Coffman voted in favour.
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