The prolonged ‘Battle of the Deputy Mayor’ came to an anti-climactic end on Feb. 4 with one simple word change.
City council dropped “deputy” and substituting “acting” as the adjective preceding “mayor” in the new procedural bylaw. It was, we were told, not a concession, just a clarification allowing peace and calm to return to City Hall.
If we go back to section 1.1 of the document itself, looking at it as a before-and-after exercise, we will see that whether the position is called deputy or acting mayor, the task of the person holding the position is simply to preside over a council meeting in the mayor’s absence.
There would have been, and are no, other responsibilities. The position’s authority would have been, and is, limited to the duration of one meeting at a time – a matter of minutes and hours, not days, weeks, or months.
By changing one single word, no new position was created and council now has, as it has always had, a bylaw providing for an acting mayor to chair meetings when the need arises. It’s basically back to the status quo all over again.
If, in the aftermath, the struggle is examined for winners and losers, it appears the pro-deputy party lost the battle and the anti-deputy party won.
The losing side was probably always in a weak position because, 1) It offered no compelling defense, 2) it allowed the opposition to bury the idea in suspicion, and 3), it apparently had no clear concept of what the new position should be, or what real need it would serve.
The winners, on the other hand, were clear only in their very angry opposition. Their most frequent arguments – we’ve never had a deputy mayor, we don’t want a deputy mayor, and we don’t need a deputy mayor – were on a par with a toddler’s resistance to spinach.
Their third objection was probably their best one simply because the other side had completely failed to anticipate it. However, the winners, for their part, never explained why a deputy mayor wasn’t needed except by circling back to “we never had” and “we don’t need.”
They seem to have won the point, but all of the other clauses in the bylaw to which they had objected were passed with little consideration. Was this then a case of the battle won, but the war lost?
All of this discussion started off as so much “inside politics,” with councillors merely setting rules for the conduct of their meetings, but it quickly took on a very public character.
Now the question remains – has the public interest been well served?
Bryan Trothen is a community volunteer with a strong interest in Sarnia’s social, cultural and political issues