The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing will be intervening in the business of West Nipissing’s dysfunctional council after all, according to a letter issued by Minister Steve Clark on April 25.
Clark’s letter includes a proposal to finally fill the vacant seat in Verner; as well plans to conduct a review of the municipality’s practices, policies, and procedures; and to have ministry staff observe meetings for the duration council’s term.
The Minister’s response was prompted in part by correspondence sent by West Nipissing’s CAO Jay Barbeau on March 25 and Mayor Joanne Savage on March 29, “expressing concerns about the function and conduct of the workplace and council.” This is the second letter council has received from the minister this year, after he wrote to them on Jan. 4 expressing disappointment for their failure to hold a regular meeting for nearly two months.
“I wish to express my deep and continued disappointment that council has not filled the Ward 7 council seat that was declared vacant on July 21, 2020,” read the letter Clark sent this week. “The Municipal Act required council to take action to fill the vacancy within 60 days. I am notifying you that council is not in compliance with that requirement. In my January 4, 2022, letter I stated my expectation that you fulfill that requirement and fill the vacancy as soon as possible. Council has not done so.”
Though nothing in the Municipal Act outlines what happens to a council after they fail to fill a vacancy in the prescribed time, the Minister wrote that he would be using powers granted to him under the Municipal Affairs Act to potentially resolve the situation.
“I will be making an order using my authority under section 14 of the Municipal Affairs Act to require the Municipality of West Nipissing to take steps towards appointing someone to fill the vacancy by June 30, 2022. I will select a facilitator to assist council with this,” wrote Clark. “It is an offence under the Municipal Affairs Act to willfully breach a section 14 order, and a council member convicted of such an offence is subject to a fine of up to $5,000 and is disqualified from holding any municipal office for a period of two years.”
The section 14 order has not been received by the municipality yet. Once it is, then more will be known about who is being appointed to facilitate the process and how it will work.
Filling the Verner seat would break the endless cycle of four-four ties at council, but in order to address the concerns surrounding the working environment and conduct of council, Clark is also calling for an inspection of the municipality’s procedures.
“I have directed ministry staff to undertake a review of the administrative practices, policies, and procedures of the municipality, and to report back on any recommendations to council for improvements. This report will be made available to council and the public once completed.”