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Richmond County council to be cut in half after Court of Appeal dismissal

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal took little time Thursday morning in dismissing an appeal from six councillors in Cape Breton who wanted the court to overturn a decision cutting the size of the council in half.

Council will be reduced from 10 to 5 members

District 10 Coun. Gail Johnson had opposed the Utility and Review Board's decision to cut Richmond County council from 10 to five members. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal took little time Thursday morning in dismissing an appeal from six councillors in Cape Breton who wanted the court to overturn a decision cutting the size of the council in half.

The court announced its decision shortly after arguments were made, effectively upholding the Utility and Review Board's stand that the council for the Municipality of the County of Richmond should be cut from 10 members to five.

A consultant hired by the municipality recommended in 2014 that the council either be reduced to seven members who would select a warden among themselves, or to five with a mayor elected at large.

Last August, the board made its own determination and ordered the reduction from 10 to five. It noted Richmond was one of the smallest rural municipalities by geography in the province, but has one of the larger councils.

One of the councillors who opposed the board's viewpoint, Gail Johnson, said the reduction is too severe and "really small communities will have no representation."

'It's appropriate for current times'

The District 10 councillor said she could support a smaller council, but any fewer than seven elected officials causes her concern.

"It would have a negative effect in my opinion," Johnson said.  

She said she worries five councillors would not have enough control of county affairs, and that "it will be staff running Richmond County and not the councillors." She is quick to add that municipal staff do good work.

Coun. Steve MacNeil, who was at the Court of Appeal hearing, supports the idea of downsizing.

"I think it's appropriate for current times — I just see it as very positive," he said.

The next decision for the Richmond County council is to move to a mayor and council system from its current structure of having the councillors choose a warden from among its ranks.

A decision has to take place by the middle of February so preparations can be made for the October municipal elections.

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