Now that the neighbouring municipalities of North Grenville and Merrickville-Wolford have completed filling positions on their Advisory Committees, they have reached the point where democracy is fully staffed and ready to go. The idea that citizens can play a role in the running of their own communities is one that has not always been acceptable to those on council, or, for that matter, those on municipal staff. Unfortunately, this can still be the case with some individuals, when even staff members resist the “encroachment” of elected councillors on what they see as their territory.
We saw that in Merrickville-Wolford recently, when the proposal that staff inform council of all federal, provincial and other grants that might be available to their municipality was rejected by the CAO, and voted down by a majority on council. Running the administration of a municipality, ran the argument, is the job of staff, and it would be too onerous a task to have to keep elected representatives informed about possible funding opportunities that might ease the budgetary burdens.
I am aware that this attitude holds in some senior management circles in North Grenville also, which has led, in the past, to the municipality being known as a kind of black hole when it comes to attendance at workshops and conferences, for example. There is no doubt that keeping up on the various funding opportunities can be a difficult job, and actually applying for them is even worse. People have been employed simply to prepare these applications, as every word, every rationale for applying, can make the difference between having it accepted or rejected. But that may be why so many bureaucrats make over $100,000 per year. But we need both sides now, if we want to make things work better.
The new committees are a welcome return to a more complete participatory form of democracy, especially in North Grenville. One important committee that has been restored to operation is the one dealing with Agricultural and Rural Affairs. There had been a Rural Affairs Committee in the past, but its Chair, Tim Sutton, decided not to call any meetings, preferring to work through the Economic Development Committee instead. As a result, the Rural Committee ceased to exist, and when the University of Guelph made the unexpected announcement that they were ceasing operations at Kemptville College, there was no group of informed and experienced people in place to deal with the crisis.
This required a rush to gather expertise to handle the situation and to find a way to save the College for future generations. That has finally resulted in the present status of the Kemptville Campus, though one wonders how long it will be before we have that Board of Directors for a not-for-profit corporation which will run the property on behalf of the taxpayers.
As for the other Advisory Committees, in addition to the Agriculture and Rural Affairs, and the Community and Economic Development Committees, which was established in April, there are six other advisory groups, as reported in last week’s Times. What gives most satisfaction in this is the fact that so many residents applied to join these groups, more than could be included on them. That speaks volumes for the level of interest and commitment existing in the community. We have said for years now that there is a depth of experience and expertise in North Grenville that was not being tapped and which could add immeasurably to the efficiency and effectiveness of the municipality.
What the current Council has done is a great step forward in terms of administration. It brings a new layer of vision, creativity and imagination – not to mention energy – to this municipality that can only be of benefit and support to municipal staff and council. In addition, these committees will be drawing on other residents from time to time, as their expertise in various subjects and on different projects can be utilised on an ad hoc basis.
The only downside to all of this is that we have lost a few months in actually getting the committees up and running. This is understandable when one considers that new terms of reference had to be drawn up for each committee, particularly the new ones. Now let’s hope that they can all hit the ground running and become the effective and creative bodies they promise to be. This requires co-operation from municipal staff, a willingness on their part to partner with the groups, rather than see them as rivals for power and influence. We’re all human, after all.
The membership of the advisory committees promises great things in the near future and for years to come. This raises the bar for future councils to continue making use of the talent and expertise on our own doorstep. It is looking good from here.