At the 11th hour, the fractured West Nipissing council finally reached an agreement regarding a controversial notice of motion, which allowed them to deliberate for the first time in nearly two months.
The resumption of regular meetings means not only could they address the backlog of agenda items that have built up over this 50-day stalemate; it means the Ministry of Municipal Affairs will not be declaring all council seats vacant next week.
During a special meeting with members of Municipal Affairs on Thursday night, Jan. 13, members of council were informed that Minister Steve Clark was prepared to brandish his seldom-used power to declare all their offices vacant if they were unable to hold a meeting for 60 days due to a lack of quorum. The deadline for when West Nipissing council had to meet was Jan. 27.
On the afternoon of Jan. 18, ahead of the last regularly scheduled council meeting prior to that deadline, the two warring sides of council reached an agreement to have Mayor Joanne Savage’s controversial notice of motion moved to the closed session portion of the agenda. The motion to discuss the CAO’s job description had been a sticking point on council since Nov. 16. That was the day council received an email from Director of Corporate Services Alisa Craddock advising them that discussing that matter in open session could be problematic and expose the municipality to legal action.
“If Council proceeds with the discussion on the notice of motion at tonight’s meeting, please be aware that you are doing so against advice… If you participate in this discussion tonight, please choose your words carefully – you may hear them repeated in court,” wrote Craddock.
Since then, councillors Dan Roveda, Leo Malette, Chris Fisher and Rolly Larabie refused to participate in meetings unless the mayor’s motion was withdrawn. Despite having the power to do so at any time, Savage insisted the motion needed to be withdrawn at the meeting, so that business could be conducted “openly and transparently.”
The lack of trust between the two sides is the reason the issue dragged into the new year, and only with the threat of Municipal Affairs kicking them to the curb, were they able to reach a compromise: the item was moved onto the closed session agenda ahead of the meeting. The Jan. 18 agenda was revised, with an addendum including the closed session item. However, the vote on the addendum was a source of confusion.
“Right now, you have a revised agenda that doesn’t have (the motion) on it, but you have a revised agenda that has an addendum to be added because the discourse that we had up until the very last minute with her worship was that she’d be amenable to putting it in closed,” Barbeau explained to council. “Now if the addendum is defeated, then it’s not moved to closed but it’s not appearing on this agenda, so you can move forward with the agenda and you’re free to introduce your notice of motion at a later date.”
After having the vote explained several times, councillors Duhaime, Larabie, Malette, Roveda, Denis Sénécal, Lise Sénécal and Mayor Savage were all against the addendum. That means the controversial notice of motion may return to the agenda for open session in the future, possibly starting this whole process over again.
Still, the agreement meant that the Jan. 18 meeting could move ahead without the notice. In the eyes of Municipal Affairs, it was the first time council met since a special closed session on Nov. 29. (It should be noted that council hadn’t discussed an agenda item of public benefit since their Nov. 2 meeting.)