Huron East to fill vacant councillor position by appointment
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron East Council is moving forward with replacing Councillor John Lowe by choosing to appoint an eligible elector.
Council made the decision at its Nov. 2 meeting, which was held virtually via Zoom, opting to go the way of appointment, rather than a by-election or revisiting the results of the 2018 municipal election.
Chief Administrative Officer Brad McRoberts presented council with his report, which contained several options for council to consider. He began by saying staff did not recommend holding a by-election due to the cost and staff time necessary. In addition, since the process would unfold with less than a year until the next election, McRoberts said it would be a lot of cost and effort for someone to fill the position for less than 10 months.
McRoberts told council that holding a by-election would come with a price tag of approximately $25,000, about the same as the 2018 election, despite the fact that it would only be for one position.
The proposed timeline for a by-election would be: Nov. 16, declare Lowe’s seat vacant; Jan. 18, 2022, council would pass a bylaw authorizing a by-election; March 14, 2022, nomination day and April 25, 2022, voting day.
The second option recommended by McRoberts was to appoint the person with the third-most votes in the 2018, who was then-incumbent David Blaney, the only other candidate for the two Brussels Ward seats. He said that wasn’t an option, however, as Blaney no longer lives in Huron East.
The third option of appointing an eligible elector would include a nomination process, a special council appointment meeting and a council vote.
McRoberts told council that eligible electors would complete and sign a council vacancy application form, as well as a council vacancy declaration of qualification and then submit a personal statement, similar to a résumé, including their background, relevant qualifications and why they’re interested in the position.
Then, council would host a special appointment meeting, at which candidates would address council for as long as 10 minutes, followed by a question-and-answer period, during which each council member will be allowed to ask a maximum of two questions per candidate.
Council would then hold an open public vote, verbally casting their vote in random order. Voting will continue, McRoberts said in his report, until one candidate receives more than one half of all votes cast. In the event of a tie with only two candidates remaining, the clerk will break the tie by pulling the name of the successful nominee by lot.
The tentative schedule for this process would be: Nov. 16, declare Lowe’s seat vacant; Nov. 22, nominations to open at 9 a.m.; Nov. 25 and Dec. 2, council vacancy notice to be published in local newspapers; Dec. 9, nomination period to close at 2 p.m. and the list of candidates will be posted by 4 p.m.; Jan. 4, 2022, council will host its appointment meeting and Jan. 15, 2022 will be the deadline by which the vacant seat would have to be filled.
McRoberts noted that, in addition to his council seat, Lowe also served on the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre Management Board, the Water and Sewer Committee, the Personnel Committee, the Brussels Trust, the Brussels Fire Area Board, the Brussels Cemetery Board and the Coalition for Huron Injury Prevention (CHIP) Committee.
McRoberts also noted that council had to pick a path forward due to the length of time until next fall’s municipal election and that not filling the position was not an option.
Councillor Ray Chartrand was the first to speak in favour of the third option, to appoint an eligible elector. Councillor Zoellyn Onn supported Chartrand, saying she too favoured that option.
Onn was concerned, however, about the quality of candidates the municipality would receive and council’s options. She asked what council could do if only one elector came forward and council didn’t think the candidate would make a good councillor. McRoberts said that, to a certain extent, council’s hands would be tied and the municipality would have to accept that nominee.
Mayor Bernie MacLellan, however, said that’s when he would have to step in and, if the person was disruptive or unco-operative, it would be on him to keep the person in line and minimize disruption to council’s work. Furthermore, he said, that person would only be one of 11 votes around the council table.
Councillor Gloria Wilbee said that her son, Kevin, who previously served as a Huron East Councillor in the McKillop Ward, would be willing to fill the vacancy if council allowed it. She noted that he no longer lives in the municipality, but later clarified that he does own property in the municipality, which would make him an eligible elector. Before that clarification, MacLellan had said that, if Kevin was eligible, he’d be able to apply to fill the position just like anyone else. However, council wouldn’t be able to bring in an ineligible person (someone who no longer lived in the municipality) to fill the position, even if he had previously served as a Huron East councillor.
Council approved moving ahead with the third option, opting to appoint an eligible elector.