Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Politics Aurora Ward System – As Decided by Council

Aurora Ward System – As Decided by Council

Aurora ward system implementation for the 2022 Municipal Elections is now completed following the passing of the by-law on ward boundaries on July 14, 2020. In the next election, there will be a total of six wards in the Town of Aurora and residents will be casting one vote for Mayor and one vote for Councillor in their ward.

Although it does not make much difference now, there remains some controversy surrounding how Aurora Council arrived at the decision in 2019 to implement a ward system based on the referendum questions on the 2014 ballot. In my opinion, that remains a topic that needs some public attention.

Many residents continue to refer to the 2014 referendum results, where those in support of wards argue that questions on the ballot were not binding and others not in support argue that still more people voted against wards. Both positions are valid but there is more than just a ballot question argument.

In 2017 the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee was formed and one of the mandates was to review Aurora’s electoral system and potentially recommend wards to Council Term 2014–2018. Council would then be able to direct Town staff to implement wards if possible for the 2018 Municipal Elections. Well that didn’t happen since there was insufficient time for the Committee to review prior to the deadline. Instead the Committee recommended postponing the electoral system review process to Council Term 2018-2022.

It’s possible that Council might have grown impatient with the 2017 Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee recommendation. Although the change to wards would not take place for the 2018 Municipal Elections, it was quite evident from the following actions that Council did not want to miss the opportunity to implement a ward system in Aurora for the 2022 Municipal Elections.

Council made the following decisions on their own, first to reduce Council size in 2017 (Councillor Humfryes’ Motion) and then to implement wards in 2019 (Councillor Thompson’s amendment to the Motion).

No doubt that the public should have known that this critical change was coming. Over the years, wards were discussed at Council meetings, written in the local newspaper or promised during the 2018 election campaign by some candidates.

However, there was never really a formal electoral system review held with the public after the 2014 Municipal Elections referendum questions. The only public consultation was during the time of ‘ward boundaries review’; leaving some residents to question when did the public agree to move to a ward system?

After watching all Council ward related meetings and also being a member of the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee (Council Term 2014-2018), I’d like to layout the major milestones from my perspective.

It’s important to note that official public debate for implementing wards or reducing Council size is not required; it only helps to justify it. The Municipal Act (Section 222) provides Council with the authority to define the number of and boundaries of electoral districts, or wards through the passage of a by-law.

Referendum Questions Recap

This critical change to divide Aurora into wards was almost six years in the making. Many of you may remember the referendum questions on the 2014 Municipal Election ballot. About 55% (6,670 out of 12,182) of Aurora voters in 2014 voted against the ward system as per Town’s March 3, 2015, Report No. LLS15-011. The vote was non-binding because less than 50% (32.82%) of residents voted in the 2014 Municipal Election. Total number of eligible electors in the October 27, 2014 Municipal election was 37,123.

The report concluded as follows, “The results of the voting on the two (2) Questions on the Ballot at the 2014 Municipal Election are not binding on the Town. Council can therefore take no further action in respect to the Questions on the Ballot, or can exercise its discretion to implement a ward system to elect councillors and/or reduce the size of Council.” [1]

At that time it seemed that Council chose the ‘take no further action’ option. Also it is important to note that former Councillor Pirri (Council Term 2014-2018) did put a motion on the floor on March 3, 2015 to reduce Council size for 2018 Municipal Elections; however, the motion failed. Only Council Pirri was in favour of his own motion. Wards were not discussed during that meeting.

Watch video segment here: General Committee Session from March 3, 2015 – Part 2 of 2

Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee is Formed to Review & Recommend on Aurora Governance Issues

For a while, Council went quiet on the topic of wards. However, it is possible that Councillor Pirri’s referendum question triggered some Councillors to investigate further, that with a growing population, wards may be beneficial to the community after all.

A slightly different approach was taken to review Aurora’s electoral system – in 2017 a Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee was formed with the Terms of Reference including the following: “The purpose of the Committee shall be to review and provide advice on governance issues related to the Town, including Council composition, structure, and compensation, and election provisions.[2]

I was asked to apply and was selected as a member of the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee (Council Term 2014-2018). When I joined the Committee, I was under the impression that we were to review and recommend the most suitable electoral system to Council, that being either changing to a ‘ward system‘ or remaining with the current ‘at-large system‘; however, as time progressed that seemed not to be the case.

As a Committee (Council Term 2014-2018), our first introduction meeting was held on February 10, 2017. Our duties and functions at that point weren’t specific yet. “The Committee shall review and make recommendations to Council at General Committee in the following areas: policies and procedures governing elections; composition and structure of Council; and remuneration and benefits for Council Members.[2]

Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee Takes Necessary Steps to Review & Recommend Wards

As we were prioritizing our work plan it became clearly evident from staff that it was expected of the Committee to review and recommend a ward system for Aurora. The Committee respected Council’s expectation and was taking all necessary steps. The Committee was also clearly communicating each step with Council.

On February 28, 2017 the Committee stated: “The Committee agreed that further information regarding questions on the ballot will not be required as it will not be recommended.[3]

During my short time on the Committee, I felt that we had a good working group. Council did a good job selecting members that would bring different perspectives to the discussion table. The Committee consisted of five members with good municipal knowledge background: two engaged citizens, one former public servant and two former Councillors.

On April 11, 2017 the Committee had a round table discussion about wards. In order for the committee to properly review and recommend wards to Council the Committee required more information. Our next step was to recommend the following to Council.

“That the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee recommend to Council: “(a) That staff investigate and report back on the feasibility of a ward system, including the process and cost of retaining a consultant, projected budget, and timelines; and (b) That the direction of the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee with respect to the feasibility of a ward system be confirmed.[4]

The Committee received what was requested, “The Committee considered a report from Dr. Robert J. Williams regarding a potential review of the Town’s electoral system, specifically the merits of the ward system versus the at-large system.” The Committee also had a teleconference call with Dr. Williams for questions and answers. [5]

Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee Recognizes Time Constraints to Implement Wards for 2018 Municipal Elections

Dividing Aurora into wards was going to be a big change for the community and the Committee wasn’t sure if it was feasible to implement wards in 2017 for the 2018 Municipal Elections; for that reason the above mentioned feasibility study was requested to confirm our uncertainty. After having a conference call with the ward consultant Dr. Williams and being presented with the report, we concluded and recommended that the review process be postponed until the next Council Term 2018-2022.  The Committee agreed unanimously that to implement such a critical change correctly would require more time.

On May 9, 2017, the Committee submitted the following final recommendation to Aurora Council: “Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee recommend to Council: (a) That a review of the system of representation used by the Town of Aurora be postponed until the 2018-2022 term of Council due to the time restrictions in place; and (b) That, in order to have a productive, Town-wide discussion of a review of the system of representation, this review be initiated early in the next term (2018-2020) of Council.” [6]

We also recommended to Council: “That, in order to provide enough time to thoroughly complete its mandate, a Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee be established within the first 12 months of the 2018-2022 term of Council.” [6]

Although Council adopted the Committee recommendations at the July 11, 2017 Council meeting, the next steps taken by Council, independent of the Committee, were interesting to note.

Councillor Humfryes’ Introduces Motion ‘Reduction of Council Size’ (Council Term 2014-2018)

On October 24, 2017, a year before the 2018 Municipal Elections, Council approved to move forward with Councillor Humfryes’ motion on ‘Reduction of Council Size’. This motion was very interesting for many reasons and perhaps an extended story for another day. However, in the meantime I want to point out a few interesting facts.

It was an unexpected motion and was not recommended by the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee. Yet, in the opening statement of Councillor Humfryes’ motion she stated the Committee did provide feedback. Her powerful statement headlined later in The Auroran, November 2, 2017 issue: “Councillor Humfryes told Council she brought this motion forward due to feedback stemming from the Town’s Governance Review Committee. Their advice, she said, provided powerful evidence of a “forward thinking” view and leaves the door open to future consideration within Aurora for implementing a ward system.”

Well her statement was definitely powerful enough to make the headlines; but let me make the correction here; there was never a recommendation from the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee to reduce Council size or to implement a ward system in Aurora. Unfortunately multiple members of Council have misstated that same fact. In case they have evidence supporting their statements it would be helpful for them to share it with the public.

I recommend watching the video segment here and reviewing what was said that night at Council. The debate around the table was all focused on wards, where the ‘reduction of council size motion’ was actually presented as the ‘first step’ followed by dividing Aurora into wards as the ‘second step’.

During the debate Councillor Pirri commented on the failure of the same motion of ‘reduction of council size’ in 2015. Also, it’s worth noting that Councillor Thom was the only one to point out that he had not seen any reports from the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee recommending Council reduction. Councillor Humfryes never corrected herself that evening.

Now when reading her motion below perhaps she could have stated that council reduction was considered a necessary step moving towards a ward system and that would have given the public some notice that the ward system was back on the radar.

The motion read as follow: “Whereas Council deemed it appropriate to undertake a review of the Town’s governance model to ensure that it best serves the future needs of our residents; and Whereas in the 2014 municipal election a question was put on the ballot asking voters if they were in favour of reducing the number of Aurora Councillors from eight (8) to six (6); and Whereas nearly two-thirds of those who voted said they were in favour of reducing the size of Council; and Whereas any substantive changes to the governance structure of Aurora Town Council would need to be passed by a by-law on or before December 31, 2017;

  1. Now Therefore Be It Hereby Resolved That the composition of the Council of The Corporation of the Town of Aurora be changed from nine (9) members to seven (7) members, comprised of one (1) Mayor, who shall be he Head of Council, and six (6) Councillors; and
  2. Be It Further Resolved That the change in the composition of Council come into force for the 2018 municipal election in accordance with the provisions of the Municipal Act; and
  3. Be It Further Resolved That staff be directed to bring forward the necessary by-law prior to December 31, 2017, to change the composition of Council for The Corporation of the Town of Aurora from nine (9) members to seven (7) members, comprised of one (1) Mayor, who shall be the Head of Council, and six (6) Councillors.[7]

Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee Comments on Councillor Humfryes’ Motion

On October 31, 2017 the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee released the following statement to Council with regards to Councillor Humfryes October 24, 2017 motion to reduce Council size.

The Committee discussed Council’s approval of a motion to decrease Council’s size from nine to seven Members. The Committee decided that the reduction in Council size had no impact on its original recommendations regarding Council compensation. The Committee agreed that an additional paragraph be added to the report acknowledging the reduction in Council size and confirming that it did not influence the Committee’s recommendations.” [8]

In the statement the Committee notified Council that the motion was discussed and that the motion had no impact on Committee’s recommendations to increase Council compensation while keeping the Mayor’s role as full-time and Councillors role as part-time.

The recommendation from the compensation review report read as follows, “That for purposes of evaluating and reviewing the compensation of members of Council, Council supports the Mayor role being considered as “full-time” while the eight current Councillor roles being considered as “part-time”.[9]

As a Committee we believed the topic of Council size reduction would logically be an integral part of the ward system review process. So the independent motion on ‘reduction of Council size’ seemed premature and had the potential to conflict with the Committee’s mandate in the upcoming Council Term 2018-2022 to review and recommend wards.

So from the perspective of timing and reason, what was driving Council to veer off the planned path of waiting until the next term to combine Council reductions with the ward system review?

Council Officially Passes By-Law to Reduce Council Size

On November 17, 2017 By-Law Number 6019-17 to change the composition of Council for The Corporation of the Town of Aurora passed with “voting Yeas: Councillors Abel, Humfryes, Kim, Mrakas, Pirri, Thompson, and Mayor Dawe; and voting Nays: Councillors Gaertner and Thom.” [10]

Before voting on the by-law, Councillor Thom commented again on the fact that there was no recommendation from the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee with respect to the ‘reduction of Council’ motion. Councillor Humfryes had no comments on her motion. The video segment can be watched here: November 14, 2017 Council Meeting.

Before moving on to Council’s next unexpected move I want to emphasize that some Councillors along with members of the public may have been under the impression that ‘wards versus at-large electoral system’ was still up for discussion. However, after Councillor Humfryes’ motion in 2017, it was clearly not the case.

New Council (Term 2018-2022) to Proceed with Electoral System Review

After the 2018 Municipal Elections a new Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee (Council Term 2018-2022) was formed. I didn’t apply this time around; therefore, I cannot speak about the work done by the current Committee to review Aurora’s electoral system. However, the current Committee recommended the following: “The Committee agreed that a review is warranted, however, the review should not begin until the Province provides confirmation that the Town’s boundaries will remain unchanged as a result of the Regional Government Review.” [11]

On May 7, 2019, at the Aurora General Committee meeting, Electoral System Review Report No. CS19-018 [12] was received. Mayor Mrakas commented that the Committee must start working on the review immediately. He assured Council verbally that he received a verbal confirmation from Christine Elliot, MPP Newmarket-Aurora, that there will be no change to the Town’s outside boundaries. By the end of the meeting Councillor Thompson concluded, “… just as a reminder as stated in the conclusion that adopting the recommendations tonight does not constitute a switch to the ward system it just initiates the process to review the system.” Watch the meeting segment here: May 7, 2019 General Committee Meeting.

Recommendation from the Electoral System Review Report No. CS19-018: “1. That Report No. CS19-018 be received; and 2. That should the Town of Aurora boundaries remain unchanged by the current Regional Governance Review being conducted by the Provincial Government; a) That Capital Project No. 13025 – Electoral System Review be approved; and b) That a total budget of $60,000 be approved for Capital Project No. 13025 – Electoral System Review to be funded from the Studies & Other Capital Reserve Fund.[12]

What Councillor Thompson clarified was a statement from the Conclusions section of the report: “It is important to note that adopting the recommendations of this report does not constitute a switch to the ward system for the Town. As part of the review, the status quo option of the at-large system will remain an option until the end of the project.” [12]

Councillor Thompson Amends Motion to Elect Aurora Councillors by Ward Vote (Council Term 2018-2022)

On May 14, 2019, just a week later, unexpectedly, Councillor Thompson amends the motion, being very clear with moving forward to divide Aurora into wards.

Main motion as amended: 1. That Report No. CS19-018 be received; and; 2. That Capital Project No. 13025 – Electoral System Review be approved; and 3. That a total budget of $60,000 be approved for Capital Project No. 13025 – Electoral System Review to be funded from the Studies and Other Capital Reserve Fund; and 4. That Council endorse, in principle, the electing of all Aurora councillors, other than the Mayor, by ward vote instead of general Town-wide vote. Carried as amended.[13]

With his amendment Councillor Thompson abruptly ends the electoral system review part of the project.

Discussion on the motion can be found here: May 14, 2019 Council Meeting.

On a side note, this is also worth noting. During the same meeting Councillor Gaertner asked: “And during this process is there also going to be an opportunity for members of the public who do not think that a Ward system is appropriate to express their [views] and to know that they can do that legitimately in this context of what we’re looking at?

Mayor Tom Mrakas responded: “Of Course. I would say that there’s going to be a public consultation and any member of the public would come out and speak for or against just as any issue that we put forward and discuss at Council.”

Mayor Tom Mrakas Makes Inaccurate Statements About the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee Recommendations

Mayor Tom Mrakas in his weekly column Getting Things Done on Page 26 THE AURORAN, Thursday, May 23, 2019 states:

Last term of Council, the governance committee made recommendations to move to a ward system and to reduce the number of Councillors from 8 to 6. The previous Council felt that the reduction in Councillors was the first step towards changing to a ward system and adopted that change in time for the 2018 election. The move to the ward system was deferred until this term of Council as there was insufficient time to review the needed additional information and further discussion.”

There is no misunderstanding that those statements made by Mayor Tom Mrakas were technically inaccurate and need to be corrected. Any recommendations of the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee remain a matter of public record and his aforementioned statements are not consistent with those official records. Unfortunately Councillor Humfryes, Councillor Kim and Councillor Thompson have also made similar remarks in the past – attributing the changes to wards and Council reduction as “recommendations” from the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee.

Summary

In summary, the previous Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee (Term 2014-2018) did not recommended Council seat reduction from 8 to 6 Councillors nor did the Committee review and recommend the change to a ward system, simply due to time constraints. Furthermore, that Committee was mandated to review “the electoral system” and not just wards; that meaning the at-large system would have been part of the review.

As for the current Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee (Term 2018-2022), they did not review the electoral system and did not recommend a ward system as the “Electoral System Review Project” was stopped when Council changed their mandate to “assist the consultants with ward implementation”.

To date, following the 2014 Municipal Elections and since Council passed the May 2019 amended motion above, there has not been any formal public consultation on whether Aurora should change from an at-large system of representation to a ward system. The only formal public consultation has been related to the number of wards and their boundaries.

So overall, that is how we arrived at Aurora’s Ward System as decided by Council. In retrospect, for many residents of Aurora the decision to change to wards may not be considered as much an issue as the convoluted process that was followed to get there.

Perhaps, there is a recommendation here for members of Council that would like to be genuine and maintain their integrity. If you truly believe public input is required before making a decision, then you need to take the appropriate actions to obtain that input. Similarly, if you truly believe you require a Committee to provide recommendations then you need to support that Committee to the end of the process. When you don’t believe public input or Committee recommendations are required and you have the authority and competence to make a decision, take accountability and be genuine when sharing information with the public.

Anna Lozyk Romeo
Aurora, Ontario

REFERENCES

[1]: General Committee Meeting Agenda Tuesday, March 3, 2015, Report No. LLS15-011: Questions on the Ballot – 2014 Municipal Election Results; Page 47-55; File Type: PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2015-Archives-and-Agendas/General-Committee/Agendas-and-Add-ons/2015-03-03-GC-Agenda-bookmarks.pdf]

[2]: Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee Meeting Agenda, Friday, February 10, 2017, File Type: PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2017-Archive-Agendas-and-Minutes/Governance-Review-Ad-Hoc-Committee/GRAHC-2017-02-10-Agenda-bookmarks.pdf]

[3]: Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee Meeting Minutes Tuesday, February 28, 2017; Page 3; File Type: PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2017-Archive-Agendas-and-Minutes/Governance-Review-Ad-Hoc-Committee/GRAHC-2017-02-28-Minutes.pdf]

[4]: Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee Meeting Minutes, Tuesday, April 11, 2017; File Type: PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2017-Archive-Agendas-and-Minutes/Governance-Review-Ad-Hoc-Committee/GRAHC-2017-04-11-Minutes.pdf]

[5]: Report to Town of Aurora Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee May 5, 2017 Prepared by Dr. Robert J. Williams; Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee Meeting Agenda Tuesday, May 9, 2017; File Type PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2017-Archive-Agendas-and-Minutes/Governance-Review-Ad-Hoc-Committee/GRAHC-2017-05-09-Agenda-bookmarks.pdf]

[6]: Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee Meeting Minutes Tuesday, May 9, 2017; File Type: PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2017-Archive-Agendas-and-Minutes/Governance-Review-Ad-Hoc-Committee/GRAHC-2017-05-09-Minutes.pdf]

[7]: Town of Aurora Council Meeting Minutes Council Chambers, Aurora Town Hall, October 24, 2017, Page 9; File Type: PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2017-Archive-Agendas-and-Minutes/Council/Minutes/2017-10-24-Council-Minutes.pdf]

[8]: Town of Aurora Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee Meeting Minutes; October 31, 2017; File Type: PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2017-Archive-Agendas-and-Minutes/Governance-Review-Ad-Hoc-Committee/GRAHC-2017-10-31-Minutes.pdf]

[9]: Town of Aurora General Committee Report GRAHC17-001: Interim Report #1 of the Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee, Dated June 20, 2017, Page 8, File Type: PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2017-Archive-Agendas-and-Minutes/Governance-Review-Ad-Hoc-Committee/GRAHC-2017-06-06-Agenda-attachments.pdf]

[10]: Town of Aurora Council Meeting Minutes Council Chambers, Aurora Town Hall, November 14, 2017, Page 16, File Type: PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2017-Archive-Agendas-and-Minutes/Council/Minutes/2017-11-14-Council-Minutes.pdf]

[11]: Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee Meeting Minutes Monday, April 1, 2019; File Type: PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2019-Archive-Agendas-and-Minutes/Governance-Review-Ad-Hoc-Committee/GRAHC-2019-04-01-Minutes.pdf]

[12]: Town of Aurora General Committee Report No. CS19-018, Electoral System Review, Prepared by: Michael de Rond, Town Clerk, May 7, 2019; File Type: [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Wards/Item-R1-CS19-018-Electoral-System-Review.pdf]

[13]: Council Meeting Minutes Tuesday, May 14, 2019, Page 5;  File Type: PDF [https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/Legislative-Services/Agendas-and-Minutes-Archives/2019-Archive-Agendas-and-Minutes/Council/Minutes/2019-05-14-Council-Minutes.pdf]

Photo: Leslie Street view, North of Wellington Street, June 2017.

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