CW councillors encourage municipal representatives to give to community groups

ELORA – Centre Wellington councillors wore their hearts on their sleeves at the Jan. 18 council meeting as two councillors put forth motions to benefit charitable organizations and welcome local newcomers.

Councillor Steven VanLeeuwen said that in recognition of the financial hardship the pandemic has put on the community, he’d like to encourage councillors to donate a portion of their honorarium to a charity of their own choice.

“This sits close to my heart,” he said as he introduced his motion. “We have a community that’s hurting; that’s struggling in their jobs.”

VanLeeuwen said he intends to donate a portion of his council salary to a community organization to help offset increased demand on services with decreased funding.

His motion encourages all politicians and public sector employees in municipalities, counties and the province to donate time or financial assistance and to join “this leadership effort to invest in their communities due to the effects of Covid-19 and its restrictive effects on their residents.”

Both councillors Bob Foster and Kirk McElwain applauded the spirit behind the motion, but didn’t think there needed to be a formal motion.

“I support this,” countered councillor Stephan Kitras. “As councillors it’s a good example. And it inspired me to do something also.”

“I appreciate the heart of this motion but I don’t think it requires a motion,” said Mayor Kelly Linton.

“But if it encourages others to donate, it’s a positive thing.”

Council unanimously approved the motion.

A motion from Kitras requested that council form a community wellbeing and neighbourhood hospitality task force, comprised of two councillors and six citizens, to find a way to build neighbourhood networks that could reach out to newcomers to Centre Wellington as well as support individuals who may be struggling during the pandemic.

“I don’t want a committee,” Kitras said. “It’s a one-time task force, very grassroots … Once the tools are there, the community will do it on their own.

“I’m just donating the money. Afterwards it can take care of itself.”

Kitras added that with growth happening and more expected, it’s important to get this going now.

“I’m concerned Centre Wellington will become a bedroom community,” he said.

Councillors thought it was an admirable initiative but a little vague.

They wondered if there would be duplication with existing groups, and whether government should be involved in this kind of charitable work, although councillors certainly can – and do – volunteer and contribute to community organizations.

Council decided to defer the motion for two months, so Kitras can work with staff, define some terms of reference, and return to council with a clearer vision.

“I would rather defer it, so we don’t lose it,” councillor Neil Dunsmore said.

Kitras also introduced a second motion – this one was for staff to develop a staffing policy that includes a clear business case when seeking council approval for new employee positions.

“I have concerns with how staffing has been put forward. For me it’s not clear,” he said.

CAO Andy Goldie did explain his process for assessing whether new staff positions are needed during council’s budget deliberations, “but it’s not a clear process,” Kitras said.

“It’s essential for transparency. If we don’t do the analysis, we could over-hire.”

Some councillors worried the motion was getting too deep into the day-to-day operations of the township, which is staff’s job and not council’s.

“I don’t think we want to get into the weeds, but we need answers at budget time,” said McElwain.

“Council needs details on how money is spent, and we don’t always get it.”

Linton didn’t think it was necessary, nor was it the role of council to be so involved in staffing strategies.

“This is within the scope of the CAO,” Linton said. “We are a governance body. We are not managing staff.”

Councillor Ian MacRae suggested the CAO could put his methodology in writing and that might be enough.

Council decided to defer Kitras’s motion and Goldie will provide in writing the process staff goes through to decide when a new position is needed.

Linton and Foster voted against MacRae’s friendly amendment. The others, including Kitras, voted in favour.