Mixed reviews on four-year terms from Kimberley Council

Council split on whether extending municipal terms to four years would be advantageous

Earlier this month at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) conference in Vancouver, delegates voted in favour of extending the terms of municipal councillors and mayors to four years from three. If the provincial government agrees, the change could be in effect in time for the next local government election in 2014.

It’s an idea that’s been kicked around before in this province and Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Manitoba have all gone this route.

Mayor Ron McRae says he would prefer to stay at three year terms.

“I think four years is too long, particularly for municipal operations. Two years is too short. Three years gives a pretty good time for Mayor and Councillors to settle in. It does take a while to learn the ropes, but three years is long enough.”

Kimberley councillors are somewhat torn on the idea. Many see merits, but also see problems.

“I  understand wanting four years,” said Coun. Bev Middlebrook. “It makes things simpler; less turn over for a longer period of time, however four years is a long commitment and life can change lots in one year, let alone four.

“It might make some people hesitate before running, in the long run possibly  losing some good community leaders.”

Middlebrook is in her first term as a city councillor. However, Jack Ratcliffe, a Kimberley City Council veteran agrees with her.

“If it came to a vote I wouldn’t support it,” Ratcliffe said. “It’s a long term commitment, especially if one doesn’t realize the extent of what he/she is getting into.”

Rookie Councillor Kent Goodwin sees some positives, but also some pitfalls.

“It will save some money which is a good thing, but it may discourage some folks from running which is not so good. It will also mean longer stretches between inexpensive referendums (always cheaper to hold when everyone is voting anyway) so that is not so good.

“And from a personal perspective I don’t think it will have much, if any, impact on my decision about whether to run again next year for a second term.,” Goodwin said.

Coun. Don McCormick is all for it and hopes it will come into effect before the election next fall.

“I certainly prefer four years to three. When you consider the turnover that happens each election, three years is a short time for a first-time elected official.  If you take a few months to get the lay of the land, then a few months for the next election process…there is probably 24 months to get things done. And no guarantees that you will be back to see things through. I think that the extra year adds stability for the municipality; it could also instil a greater sense of scrutiny for the electorate. And of course the extra year reduces the overall cost of electing the Mayor and Council.

“The only downside might be fewer qualified candidates because of the extra commitment, particularly for business people whose circumstances can change rapidly.”

Coun. Darryl Oakley, also in his first term is conflicted on whether it would be a good move or not.

“On the pro side, there would be more stability in terms of more time to meet and network with local and regional players to work on problems that need time to resolve. The longer your term the more you will have to face taxpayers in terms of defending your decisions (and I see this as a very healthy thing!). You might be more inclined to think longer term in terms of decisions made by council and how they impact the long term sustainability of our community. And  longer terms might help with all the infrastructure networking (federal and provincial level) that seems to be required.”

But Oakley sees negatives as well.

“It will take longer for “fresh blood” to come into council. This could be a problem in terms of new ways of looking at things. It might be difficult to change committees (if you need to change and/or the committee wants a different council rep.) and therefore four years might me problematic.

Some people may not be inclined to serve a four year term, Oakley says.

“Given that most people that serve are in their retirement golden years and may want to do other things… four years might be too long. Voters might get very frustrated if their elected officials are not doing the job expected of them, so fours years might seem like an eternity. Of course for some, three years might seem like an eternity!”