Provincial election rules could lead to a 'lame duck council'
City councillors approved a 120-day extension Tuesday to give staff more time to find a contractor willing to take on the city's animal control duties -- at a price the city is willing to pay.
But the extension could delay a decision until October or November, when city councillors may no longer have the power to vote on the contract, because of election-year rules in Ontario's Municipal Act.
In certain circumstances, Section 275 (1) of the Act restricts councils from making major personnel and spending decisions worth more than $50,000 in election years. The restrictions kick in when it becomes clear there is no chance three-quarters of the current council can be re-elected.
In Sudbury, there are vacancies in wards 1, 5 and 8, and Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk has already announced she's not running for re-election. If, as expected, another two or three current councillors don't run for re-election, this current council won't be able to make a significant decision after Sept. 12.
That's the last day candidates can file to run for re-election, so by then, we'll know who is and isn't running. And if the restriction don't kick in on Sept. 12, the same rules apply after the Oct. 27 election. If three-quarters of councillor aren't returned to office, all major decisions will have to wait until the new council term begins Dec. 1.
Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume – who hasn't announced whether he's running again, raised the issue Tuesday when staff asked for another 120 days.
“Will council be able to make a decision at that time?” Berthiaume asked.
CAO Doug Nadorozny said their goal is to have the contract in place much sooner.
“We've allowed 120 days to allow us some working time,” Nadorozny said. “We'll do what we can to bring it back sooner.”
This is the second extension of the contract, which expired in March but was extended until July 1 to give staff time to prepare a new tender. It included a number of changes, some which would cost more, and others staff said wouldn't add to the cost.
However, only one bid was received, and it was much higher than the approximately $420,000 annual cost of the old contract. The bidder was the Rainbow District Animal Shelter in Azilda, which won the last contract in 2009.
Richard Paquette Jr., whose family owns and operates the shelter, said Tuesday that costs are increasing because the city wants more services and is adding requirements not there previously.
For example, anyone working for the contractor must have training in not only animal control, but also public relations. Although they would not be permitted to speak with the media or give public presentations without getting permission from the city beforehand. The winning bidder must also file reports on mileage, complaints, and the results of the investigation into complaints.
The city also wants all vehicles to have automatic vehicle locators, for the safety of drivers and to make it easier to track complaints. It also wanted the contractor to enforce other city bylaws related to animal control, and not just provisions in the animal control bylaw.
Those elements weren't supposed to add to the price of the contract, but Paquette said he doesn't understand why the city expected more for the same price.
"That's enforcing two new bylaws," he said Tuesday. "I'm not sure why the city thought they could add extra services and requirements to the contract, but at no added cost. These things cost money."
There was no discussion Tuesday on the cost of a number of enhancements the city was looking for. They include having a veterinarian come in and do an assessment before an animal is put down. Other options included extending shelter operating hours to seven days a week, requiring shelters to keep stray animals for longer grace periods before adopting them out or putting them down, and offering free adoptions.
Staff met with the Rainbow District Animal Shelter to try and find a way to address the gap in the bid and what the city was willing to pay, but they couldn't agree. The city asked for the shelter's “best and final offer” which was still too pricey.
Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann questioned why the bid came back much higher than forecast.
“Is there any reason,” she asked. “Because he was the sole bidder … Is that the reason?”
But Guido Mazza, director of building services, said it centred on a disagreement over the services being asked for, and what they would cost.
What would happen, she wondered, if something wasn't worked out by September?
“This council may be a lame duck council as of Sept. 12.”
City solicitor Jamie Canapini said there are provisions in the Municipal Act if it comes to that.
“There is a provision for he CAO to step in,” Canapini said. “So we're not totally stranded in case something urgent comes up.”
And Nadorozny said they likely could work something out with the shelter if need be.
“If that doesn't happen … we'll probably have to negotiate another extension,” he said, adding that the current extension includes a five-per-cent increase for the shelter.
Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk said the focus should be on finding a resolution before September, particularly for the service enhancements.
“I think we need to put this on warp speed and get this done.”
What is a lame duck council?
Section 275 (1) of the Ontario Municipal Act places restrictions on city councils in election years.
There are two dates to keep in mind: Sept. 12, the deadline for candidates to file papers to run for office, and Oct. 27, election day.
After Sept. 12, if there is no chance that three-quarters of the previous council will be elected, that council is considered lame duck, greatly limiting its powers.
After Oct. 27, if three-quarters of the previous council isn't re-elected, that council is also considered lame duck.
A lame duck council can't make hiring and firing decisions, or spend or sell anything worth more than $50,000. There are exceptions, including emergencies and items already included in the city budget.
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