Dafoe floats smaller council, unelected mayor

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Wants next council to talk about it

Morinville’s next council will consider shrinking its size and ditching direct elections for its mayor.

Council voted 6-1 in favour of a motion from Coun. Stephen Dafoe to have the next council discuss three subjects in the middle of its next term: reviewing the validity of its boards and committees, cutting the number of councillors to five from seven, and having council select a mayor from amongst its members each year.

Morinville currently has seven councillors and a directly elected mayor.

In an interview, Dafoe said that he had originally planned to have the current council debate dropping to five members, but found there was not enough time in the current term to do so legally. The Municipal Government Act requires the public to have at least 60 days to file a petition to oppose such a motion, and that any such bylaw be passed at least 180 days prior to the election in which it is to take effect.

“I think five is the right number,” Dafoe said, when asked about the proposal, noting that council went up to seven members years ago in part to handle its committee work. Many of council’s boards and committees might be superfluous or not need council representatives, and two fewer councillors would save council $200,000 per term.

While the town’s population was growing, Dafoe said there was no guarantee that the next council would seek city status once Morinville reached 10,000. Council might want to add councillors or even amalgamate with other municipalities.

“How many administrations do we need in Sturgeon County?” he said, adding that he was speaking rhetorically.

As for choosing a mayor, Dafoe said he personally thought Morinville wanted to directly elect its leader, but noted that a rotating mayoral chair would let council get rid of mayors who proved ineffective or unable to do their job.

Dafoe told council he wanted to put these issues on the next council’s agenda so they’d have time to discuss them, and likened his motion to the memo in the desk traditionally left by outgoing U.S. presidents. The next council was free to rescind this motion if it didn’t want to talk about these issues.

Coun. Brennan Fitzgerald opposed the motion, saying in an interview that it was not this council’s place to set priorities for the next council. He also questioned the wisdom of a smaller council, as that it would reduce diversity.

“It’s definitely not something personally I’m in support of.”

Town residents generally wanted to have a direct say in choosing their mayor, he continued. If they wanted to change that, it was up to them to make it an election issue.

Media training

Council also supported a second Dafoe motion to have administration put information into its elected officials guide on how to deal with the media – specifically, the need to respond to media officials in a timely manner so they could hold government to account, how to complain to groups such as the Alberta Press Council and the rules on suing the media for defamation.

Dafoe said in an interview that this motion was not prompted by a desire of council to sue members of the media.

Council talked about getting media training when it was first elected but never got around to it until last fall, Dafoe said. He wanted to make sure future councils got that training up front.

“Media is changing a lot. It’s becoming quicker and some cases nastier.”

Dafoe said councillors needed to know what options they had if they felt mistreated by media reports.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.