On Feb. 1, Pelham Town Council received a report from staff, which council had asked for, on the topic of proxy voting, i.e., the ability for a councillor not to show up at a meeting, but vote on motions anyway. As staff reports go, it was about as strongly phrased as they come. It didn’t take much to read between the lines: “Councillors, this is an imbecilic idea.”
Council did not make a decision on Feb. 1, but deferred the issue to an unspecified date (sometime in the second quarter of 2021) so that Councillor Hildebrandt could take an opportunity to ask the riding’s Member of Provincial Parliament what he thinks. Really? Here’s a hint: MPP Oosterhoff likes proxy voting. Mr. Oosterhoff can’t say otherwise, as he is obligated to support his own government’s initiatives. It doesn’t matter if it’s a good idea or a bad idea—it is now law in the Ford government, a law which MPP Oosterhoff voted to enact.
Pelham’s staff report clearly makes a case not to pursue proxy voting. The basic premise of representative democracy is that a representative needs to be present to hear arguments for and against a proposition to be able to vote on it. When you send one of your council colleagues to vote on your behalf—i.e, as your proxy—you aren’t present to hear this debate. You aren’t present to hear new information that may have come to light. You are failing to represent your constituents because you aren’t doing what you were voted into office to do.
Why would society encourage elected officials to make up their minds on an issue before a meeting and before hearing public delegations on an issue? Doesn’t this just make a mockery of the process? It is the definition of machine politics.
As with every other municipality, Pelham has rules about how it operates meetings. It doesn’t require the entire council to be present, but rather a “quorum,” a minimum number of councillors. For Pelham, quorum is any four members of council. For most of last year, Pelham Town Council operated as a body of only five or six members—rather than the full seven—because of the death of Councillor Mike Ciolfi and due to the two leaves of absence taken by Councillor Ron Kore. Council continued to function, albeit making some spectacularly bad decisions along the way. Proxy voting would make this an order of magnitude worse.
The occasional councillor absence for legitimate reasons—brief illness, to attend a funeral service—isn’t something that brings governance to a screeching halt. Suggesting otherwise is a smokescreen, a limp rationalization to distract attention from what proxy advocates are really after.
If proxy voting comes to Pelham, then the group of four will have total control until the voters get a chance to render votes of their own in October 2022
The real reason proxy voting is being pursued has to do with power. With proxy voting in their toolbox to serve their agenda, the group of four that voted to keep this scheme alive instead of killing it—Kore, Hildebrandt, Stewart, and Haun—can ensure their complete control over all council decisions. If one of them will be absent for a meeting—or, say, effectively takes a third leave of absence from many, many meetings — they can give their vote to a comrade-in-harms, and in this way they can decide every issue for the next two years.
If proxy voting comes to Pelham, then the group of four will have total control until the voters get a chance to render votes of their own in October 2022. Think of the damage that could be done in the meantime. Look at the effect these four have already had on relations with the Mayor, with Town staff, and the degree to which Pelham’s good name has become a byword for amateurism in municipal governance.
Two years is a long time to let petty rancor rule the roost. Make your feelings known. Below you will find contact information for each councillor. Let them know what you think of their attempt to subvert this basic element of democracy. The residents of Pelham deserve better. ◆
Mayor of Pelham
Pelham Town Council
Councillor Marianne Stewart
Councillor Wayne Olson
Councillor Ron Kore
Councillor John Wink
Councillor Lisa Haun
Councillor Bob Hildebrandt
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