SDG council looks to reform Warden replacement

By Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
SDG council looks to reform Warden replacement
United Counties of SD&G Warden Allan Armstrong. Submitted photo.

CORNWALL, Ontario – The practice of drawing a name from a hat to settle a tie in the SDG Counties Warden election will be a thing of the past after this term of council is over. Maybe.

At its September 29 Committee of the Whole meeting SDG County Council debated reform to voting for warden, now that the position has evolved in recent decades from a ceremonial to a more advocacy role.

“I’m tired of looking Mickey Mouse and picking a warden out of a hat,” said Councillor Jamie MacDonald (North Glengarry). “It’s not fun to tell someone ‘ya, I am the new Warden. I got my name picked out of a hat.”

Three times in recent warden elections, the vote was split 50/50 among the 12 members of County Council. In those instances, the winner was chosen from a hat.

Warden Allan Armstrong agreed with MacDonald saying,   “If there is nothing that makes this position negligible, it’s pulling a name out of a hat.”

Council agreed that the hat draw needed replacing. MacDonald pitched the idea that the sitting warden would not be able to vote in the next warden election, leaving only 11 to vote ensuring no ties.

He added that if the sitting warden sought re-election for a second year, the warden would have to work harder to secure the needed votes.

The consensus around council supported MacDonald’s solution.

After the council meeting, it was discovered that his solution contravened Ontario’s Municipal Act, that a sitting member of a council cannot have their vote removed. Council will discuss other potential tie breaking solutions at a future meeting when the warden election changes are adopted by council.

Another issue discussed regarding the warden’s position is succession planning in the event a warden cannot fulfill the one year term.

SDG Council found itself without a clear succession policy following the removal of Frank Prevost as warden in June 2021. Prevost was deemed ineligible to continue as warden after taking a leave of absence from South Glengarry council while he faces multiple sex crime charges before the courts.

Armstrong told council he wanted to fix the rules for succession, which will also apply if a warden resigns or is otherwise unable to serve the term.

He said he was surprised there was no policy already in place.

“It falls to us to clean up this little issue,” Armstrong said.

Council opted to adopt what Grey County in Western Ontario already does for filling a vacated warden position.

The immediate past-Warden will automatically be the ceremonial deputy warden for SDG.

In the event of a sudden vacancy in the warden position, the deputy warden will serve as warden for the balance of the one year term. A provision will be added to the draft bylaw in case the past warden no longer is a member of council.

Councillor Kirsten Gardner (South Dundas) agreed citing that in a controversial event, having someone who had previous held the role would be better.

Councillors debated whether to return to rotating the warden’s job between the three counties that make up SDG. The majority of council supported the status quo, keeping the existing “best person for the job” election system.

Changes discussed at the COTW meeting were not voted on as a bylaw. Those changes will be brought to a future regular council meeting as a draft bylaw to be adopted. All changes discussed will affect the 2022-26 term of council.

This article was originally written for, and published in, The Morrisburg Leader.

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