Centre Wellington grants emergency powers to CAO despite objections

Councillors Foster, Kitras and McElwain say move is unnecessary, undemocratic

CENTRE WELLINGTON – A special April 6 council meeting on Zoom looked like the opening of the The Brady Bunch, with images of councillors in cubes on the screen.

But the meeting was far from light-hearted.

Centre Wellington council had to decide whether or not to give extraordinary emergency powers to the chief administrative officer (CAO)Andy Goldie as the township is in a state of emergency.

The Bylaw to Delegate Emergency Powers to the CAO would allow Goldie:

– to take action to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the township while managing budgetary considerations;

  to  approve   and   enter   into   funding   agreements   with   other   levels   of   government or other entities pursuant to township funding programs ;

– and to exercise any discretionary corporate actions when council authority would otherwise be required.

A letter to council from Kevin Thompson, a lawyer with Smith Valeriote law firm, urged council to pass the bylaw.

“…there will inevitably be urgent and critical matters that arise as this pandemic unfolds that cannot wait even for an emergency meeting of council,” Thompson’s letter states.

“In our opinion, it is highly recommended that Centre Wellington adopt such a bylaw without delay.”

Not all members of council saw it that way, however.

Councillor Bob Foster said the bylaw harkens back to a time before technology like Skype and Zoom, when council could not meet electronically.

“The recommendation is not required,” Foster said. “In this state of emergency, all members of council need to meet, and meet frequently.”

Councillors Stephen Kitras and Kirk McElwain agreed.

Kitras said the Emergency Act was enacted in 1990 and is outdated by modern technology. But more to the point, he found the bylaw to be undemocratic.

“I do not believe we should be abdicating our elected power,” Kitras said.

“We need to show that democracy works. The legislation has not kept up with technology. Democratic leadership is what’s needed.”

Both Foster and Kitras made motions to have council meet more often, even weekly, and Foster added a motion to revisit the 2020 budget to know the financial impact of the crisis.

Mayor Kelly Linton called the motions out of order. The remaining councillors placed their trust in Goldie and senior staff and the motion passed.

“It’s the CAO’s job to guide us through the COVID-19 crisis,” said councillor Neil Dunsmore. “He needs to be able to pivot on a moment’s notice.”

Earlier in the meeting, council passed a bylaw to defer tax deadlines and waive penalties as people suddenly without work may not be able to pay.

Council also voted to award a watermain project to Drexler Constrution.

Work will be done at Wellington Drive and Cuthbert Street in Elora, for $1,126,305.