What’s next for Hay River council?

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It didn’t take much time, but council decided it will continue for the rest of the its current term down a member.

The decision was made during last week’s council meeting with four members voting in favour of a motion put forward by Coun. Keith Dohey to leave the seat vacant at the previous meeting, and three voting against.

The decision doesn’t come as surprise based on previous discussions on the matter. Council was more or less evenly split on whether or not to fill the seat or leave it vacant. But the vacant camp was more unified than the those in favour of filling the position. Ultimately the tie breaking vote side with the more unified camp.

Sandra Leslie, who was only left off council because someone pulled Joe Melanson’s name from a hat to break the vote tie for the eighth and final seat, was understandably upset by the decision. Leslie had just as much right to be on council as Melanson. And now that Melanson has left town, it’s clear that she got the short straw.

Mayor Kandis Jameson downplayed any concerns about council being unbalanced with seven councillors and she may be right.

Now that the decision has been made, by a democratically elected body, there isn’t much that can be done to change it.

However, moving forward it’s clear that Hay River needs to revisit the structure and size of its council. Over the past few terms, council has gone down to as few as five councillors due to vacancies left for a variety of reasons.

Mayor Kandis Jameson downplayed any concerns about council being unbalanced with seven councillors. NNSL file photo

As several people on the current council have pointed out, Hay River is an extremely transient town and people are bound to leave from time to time. But in order to restore some sense of dedication to the public, better measures need to be put in place to prevent council shortages and to better deal with vacancies when they arise.

Having a smaller council seems like it is the best solution. After all that is what the people voted for, if only narrowly, when a plebiscite was held in 2015. And with fewer seats, it would also make vying for a spot on council more competitive. As it stands almost everyone serving the town as an elected representative was essentially acclaimed — ironically, with the exception of Leslie who lost her chance to a coin toss.

If a smaller council – six seems like the optimal number – were to become the norm, there must be much more robust ways of dealing with vacancies. There would also have to be a way to avoid council failing to make quorum.

Having council meetings less frequently might be a solution. Even Yellowknife only holds council meetings once every two weeks in the summer.

As far as dealing with vacancies goes, the current council should also look at ways of making sure no seats are left empty, and that they are filled as democratically as possible.

It may seem early to start talking about taking these steps but it’s clear the status quo isn’t working.