The story behind council succession planning and term limits

At its meeting on June 23, 2017, PEO Council adopted the revised recommendations of the Council Term Limits Task Force (CTLTF) and took a significant step towards improved election governance at its most senior level.

This decision has set in motion actions that will enshrine term limits in Regulation 941, which governs how our elections are held, and establish a successor task force to implement succession planning for all Council positions. In doing so, Council has departed from almost 20 years of an election process wherein candidates essentially self-nominated and campaigned for positions with a minimum of regulation.

Implementation of the task force recommendations could have significant impact on the composition of future Councils, as well as on the recruitment of volunteers looking to serve in an executive capacity.

In late 2015, Council approved term limits and succession planning in principle, and established the CTLTF in February 2016. This followed a recommendation from PEO’s 2015 Annual General Meeting, at which members expressed strong support for term limits following the elections earlier that year. That election saw many councillors elected by acclamation, and two former presidents elected to president-elect and vice president positions. It was perceived the unregulated system was in fact limiting access of new voices to Council and leading to a recycling of former councillors.

The CTLTF was tasked with recommending how best to implement term limits and succession planning. These changes were not without controversy and were opposed by some members of Council. It is important for PEO members to understand how these changes came about and why—in the end—they were approved.

JUSTIFICATION NEEDED

At the outset, the CTLTF recognized improved succession planning would be readily accepted, but term limits were potentially controversial. Term limits would have to be justified based on an analysis of how the current election system was affecting Council composition, and on general principles of what is the best practice for elections to not-for-profit boards.

The analysis of PEO elections established that in most—but not all—cases there has been reasonable turnover at the regular councillor level. However, for senior officers, such as elected vice president and president, there has been substantial recycling.

The conclusion from this analysis was that term limits for regional councillors and councillors-at-large would affect few individuals and provide greater consistency in terms of office. Term limits for president and elected vice president would ensure turnover and widen the spectrum of members in these high-profile positions.

Governance literature in general favours turnover on boards to encourage board members to fulfill their mandates with enthusiasm and then move on to make room for new people with new ideas. There is a tendency for long-term incumbents to lose their passion after several years on a board, and some stay on for reasons that have more to do with themselves than with serving the organization.

In various studies, the recommended maximum is six to 10 years. An alternative to fixed term limits is a robust evaluation system, where board members are asked to step aside once it is perceived they are not effective. However, this system is challenging to implement and requires careful management to avoid abuses. A fixed-term-based 
system is both easier to manage and less impactful on board members.  

With the justification for term limits established, the task force was able to set limits for all Council positions. Its report recommended that these be permanent—in other words, that all members of the association have a fixed allocation of years on Council available to them. Six years was recommended for general members of Council, with a maximum of 10 years if a councillor was subsequently elected to a president or vice president position.

SIX-YEAR HIATUS

In March 2017, Council rejected permanent term limits in favour of a hiatus approach, where those reaching their limit would be allowed to return after a minimum time off Council. In response to this, the CTLTF recommended the hiatus be set at 10 years, but Council chose to reduce this to six years and approved term limits on this basis.

Succession planning was, as expected, more readily accepted by Council. However, it is also much more complicated and challenging to implement. There are many possible ways to get the best people on Council and not all approaches will be effective at PEO, especially given our election-based system. For this reason, the task force concluded that an independent successor task force is essential and provided preliminary recommendations to start the process.

Once this task force is in place, it is expected the process will be iterative in nature and various programs will be tried as the best practice for PEO is developed. This approach was accepted by Council and approval of the new task force terms of reference are expected in November 2017

Approved term limit recommendations, along with policy direction outlined in the CTLTF report and recommendations (www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/31193/la_id/1.htm), has been sent to the Legislation Committee for development of any necessary act, regulation and/or bylaw changes, and will be advertised and put into practice for the 2019 Council elections.


Rob Willson, P.Eng., was chair of the Council Term Limits Task Force, and also served two terms on PEO Council as a West Central Region councillor.

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