Did the Mayor get the feedback she was looking for from her colleagues?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

December 29th, 2020



The genesis for the document the Mayor sent her colleagues on December 7th came out of a 2017 Citizen Review Committee report that called for a review of the role for Deputy Mayors in subsequent terms of council.

Mayor Meed Ward was putting together the list of who would serve as Deputy Mayor and when and explained to her colleagues that one could not serve as the Deputy Mayor (DM) while they were serving as Chair of a Standing Committee. Changing that rule would call for a change in the procedural bylaw. While doing that it made sense to the Mayor to take a deeper look into what the other members of Council thought the role should be when they were serving as Deputy Mayor.

DM evolution graphic

A Council meeting on evolving the role of deputy mayor. First time around it didn’t produce all that much.

In a short visual presentation to Council, which was meeting virtually, Meed Ward set out what she saw as the options.
Roles and Responsibilities, Term and Term Extension, How Selected and Other. It was the “other” that was particularly interesting and revealing.

Meed Ward and Itabashi mayor

When the Mayor travels – and this one does like to travel – she needs a deputy mayor in place to ensure there is continuity of operations should a crisis hit the city.

Meed Ward pointed to possible variations: A purely ceremonial role where the Deputy Mayor would represent the Mayor and cut a ribbon or make a few comments at some event.

It could possibly be a situation where the deputy gave advice and worked as a partner with the Mayor. Should the person serving as Deputy be elected or appointed? Should there be an additional stipend and what should the term of office be? Anywhere from a month to the full four years.

It was clear that the Mayor was wide open to any ideas – not something one normally gets from a sitting Mayor. In the comments she made after the presentation she said she saw part of a Mayor’s job was to groom and nurture future holders of the office.

The over-riding question was – does council do nothing about the role or should it be enhanced?

Meed Ward is currently taking a course at McMaster on Corporate Governance and had learned that continuity of operations was critical. It was while doing the course work that Meed Ward fully realized that there really wasn’t an acceptable backup policy – someone to fill in when the Mayor was not available.

That resulted in a report she brought to council that led to a long protracted discussion on just what the role of a deputy mayor should be and if there were people on council who could step into the role if it became necessary.

The discussion revealed a lot about the other members of council: how they saw themselves and what they thought the role of a deputy mayor of council should be. They all wanted it to be more than cutting ribbons and taking part in flag raising.

The pressing concern for the Mayor was having a deputy in place and then developing a program that would educate the Councillors on just what is expected of them should they have to fill in for the Mayor.

The current council includes five people who had never served on a committee and knew next to nothing about how a municipal council worked. They were both green and wet behind the ears.

They have grown in the two years they have been in place and it is becoming clearer as to who has the skills and the inclination to seek higher office.

What these members of council were not prepared to do was set out just what the role of a deputy mayor should be.

They did agree that there needed to be a deputy Mayor in place for more than a month at a time and in January the Mayor will release the names of the people she would like to see in place as deputy mayor for the balance of this term which has a little less than 22 months left.

Mayor Meed Ward wanted to know what her colleagues would like to see as the role of a deputy mayor. She didn’t get much in the way of a clear answer.

“What do you think the role should/could be?”
“Should the term be monthly? Quarterly?”

Meed Ward asked: “What else comes to mind, is there anything missing? We need to capture those thoughts now.”

Meed Ward

Mayor Meed Ward was looking for much more in the way of input on the role of a DM from her council colleagues.

Meed Ward kept pressing the other members of council: “I want to be open minded and hear what my colleagues think” adding that she has her own initial thoughts. She was not on for one person serving as deputy minister for a full year.

The decision as to who serves as deputy mayor is part of the Mayor’s job. She will listen to council but she decides.

Councillor Sharman made it clear to his colleagues that he had served as the deputy mayor in place when the flood hit parts of the city in August of 2014.

Flood Fairview plaza

The day the rain wouldn’t stop both the Mayor and the City Manger were out of town. Councillor Sharman was the DM – he had to call a Special meeting of Council – something for which he admits he was not prepared.

“I was not prepared for that” but the city did get through it.”

Sharman had yet to get over not being given a chance to serve as deputy mayor so far this term saying that he was the “primary” Councillor and that he wasn’t sure what his not being part of the list that did serve as deputy mayor “was all about.”

Shawana Stolte 1

Councillor Stolte wanted a lot more in the way of discussion on just what a DM should be doing.

There were a number of good ideas put out for discussion. For Councillor Stolte the immediate objective was to get a deputy mayor in place “so that the Mayor could “get a good night’s sleep” Meed Ward had said that the city was at risk in not knowing just who would stand in for her if she were incapacitated.

Stolte agreed with that position however she did not want to take time at this point to define just what the role of a deputy mayor should be.

That for her is something that would be discussed during 2021 because “it is a bigger conversation” that needs time and some research. One of her questions was – Why enhance the role? Stolte pointed out that there was a statutory responsibility to have a deputy mayor in place and she wanted to see a number of people who had some training and experience to be able to slide into the job when the Mayor was unable to.

Councillor Kearns pointed to the diversity on council and said the mayor should uses the most qualified people to serve as deputy mayor. She felt council should be cautious and careful to ensure that chaos did not result with a less than clear understanding of the job.

Kearns with Mike

Was serving as DM resume padding ?

Was the role of deputy mayor just resume-building, should DM get paid more, would a deputy mayor have more in the way of ranking?

Getting in as a DM is one thing – how do you get out,  asked Kearns.

Councillor Sharman took that one step further and asked: What happens when the DM screws up.

There was an occasion when, due to a communications error, that the feelings of two Councillors were “hurt”. Everyone stepped around just who the two were and what the circumstances were – but that did point up the importance the newbies place on the job.

Councillor Nisan said he found that when he was serving as the DM a document would be put in front of him that h would be asked to sign.

On one occasion Nisan chose to meet with the city solicitor and ask for some direction before signing.

The Emergency Control Group, (ECG) that in practice runs the city while there is a pandemic and the province has set some rigid rules. In Burlington the Mayor takes part in the ECG meetings and the city manager reports to council on what they are doing and why.

Councillor Sharman has always had issues with just the Mayor taking part in ECG meetings.

Councillor Nisan pointed out that with continuity being the major driving force the ECG becomes a focal point for a DM. He added that there might come a point when there is more than one critical issue taking place which could stretch what a councillor could handle.

KG Dec 7

Councillor Galbraith had little to say on the role the DM should play.

Councillor Galbraith, who was chairing the virtual meeting, didn’t have all that much to say other than he had served as the DM and he had no problems. His assistant did come up with a “chain of office” he could wear.

He saw the role as more ceremonial than anything.

Angelo B

For Councillor Bentivegna it was a big step.

Councillor Bentivegna saw the discussion as a “big step” and pointed out that anything this council might put in place could be changed by a new Mayor.

It was Councillor Sharman who asked the question that should have been at the beginning of the meeting: “What business problem are we trying to solve?” He understood that the need for continuity was critical and had already pointed out that he was the most qualified Councillor to take on that task and didn’t understand why he wasn’t the full time DM.

Mayor Meed Ward certainly understood. One does not put the fox in the hen house.

Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward. Unbeatable? Some Tory's seem to think so.

Marianne Meed Ward will let her colleagues know what she has decided to do with the DM issue – she seemed to be looking for more in the way of ideas from council members.

She did say that she was prepared to spend some time with Councillors and mentor them but said it would be difficult to do much for them if the rotation is monthly – quarterly would give her the opportunity to do more for them.

Expect the rotation to be quarterly and this time around Councillor Sharman will get a chance to strut his stuff.

The Mayor will present her list early in 2021

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3 comments to Did the Mayor get the feedback she was looking for from her colleagues?

  • David Barker

    What is the present solution should the mayor pass away or become permanently incapacitated during his/her term? Is a replacement mayor appointed by council? Or is an election held?

    Editor’s note: If the Mayor dies there is an election. There are some rules related to how close to an election the death takes place.

    If the Mayor is incapacitated the deputy mayor takes the job and has all the power and authority the mayor had. Not certain how long that can go on for.

  • Hans Jacobs

    Maybe the simplest approach is to start with the Mayor’s current Job Description and delete the responsibilities that should NOT be delegated to a deputy Mayor. Some responsibilities could perhaps be more appropriately assumed by the City Manager, Clerk, Legal Dept., etc.

    I see no rationale that would support Mr. Sharman’s claim to being “most qualified”. The job requires much more than accounting skills.

    • David Barker

      Agreed. Sharman might have had prior experience as a DM and be the longest serving councilor, ut does not necessarily means he is appropriately qualified to do the job.

      Also, the mayor would want someone with a very similar philosophy standing in for her, were she incapacitated.