Community appears to be fairly evenly divided on by-election issue | Commentary

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By Dave Wilkin

Huntsville council’s upcoming decision on whether to appoint or call a by-election to fill our vacant mayor’s chair is one of the most important decisions Council has faced in recent memory. The community currently appears fairly evenly divided on the matter, as borne out by a recent poll.

Let me begin by addressing the main objections most seem to have with a by-election. The top one seems to be the $100,000 ‘unbudgeted’ cost. This is likely a misleading number. I would bet that at least half of that is Town fixed costs (i.e. existing staff time cost). Would you consider $50,000 plus a few months of some existing staff time too high a price to pay for democracy?

Some have also argued the need for consistency and standards, which implies holding by-elections for other seats vacated resulting from the ripple effect on council filling the mayor’s chair and leading to higher spending. This is flawed thinking. First, it implies that all council seats are of equal importance, and therefore should be treated in a standard or consistent fashion. The mayor, as head of council, is also the chief spokesperson for our town, and our leader at the District Council table. The mayor can be thought of as the CEO of a town or city. The buck stops there. It is a much more important role than a councillor. The other vacated seats would be filled via appointment, without issue or cost.

Another argument made in support of appointment is that we elected councillors to make decisions on our behalf, and so empowering them to make this one too. This clearly overlooks the fact that some decisions are far more impactful and important than others. Second, no one thought when they voted for their councillors that they would be empowering them to choose the mayor for the next three years. It becomes even more questionable when the decision will be decided by six, perhaps fewer councillors, and would likely be very close.

The next three years could be the most challenging Huntsville has seen in decades; far from business as usual. Topping the list of challenges is the future of our hospital, and the enormous burden that MAHC’s latest two-new-hospital-build plan would place on Huntsville taxpayers. Our previous mayor was very well informed, and our strongest advocate and leader on this critical issue. He would not be pushed around by anyone, and fully understood the fiscal realities and limits quite well. That’s precisely what Huntsville residents want and expect in their mayor. For this reason alone, the people should choose.

There are other pressing big issues and challenges too, including aging infrastructure, business/residential growth investments, fighting for our share of affordable housing, local health and job creation and government funding. There’s also a likelihood that District/Municipal restructuring will heat up again. The Ford government has rightly decided to leave this in the hands of District/Regional governments. Changes there could significantly impact Huntsville, so a strong experienced leader representing our town’s interests at the District table is critical. Let’s also not overlook the possibility of a global recession, meaning a mayor possessing strong fiscal and leadership skills becomes that much more important.

Should we allow any election fatigue/overload to trump democracy? I think not.

Finally, do our councillors, given all that’s at stake, want to be on the record as having placed a small cost ahead of democracy? At least half of the people disagree with that, and they will be far more upset and vocal than those who simply say appoint. To those councillors interested in the mayor’s seat, would you want a cloud of legitimacy hanging over your three-year term as mayor, given the challenges ahead? I sure wouldn’t.

Dave Wilkin is a Professional Engineer who lives in Huntsville. He is an electrical engineer with a career spanning 35 years in IT, banking and consulting.

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21 Comments

  1. Sounds to me that maybe Dave wants to run for mayor and that is why he wants an election so bad. I’m for counsel appointing A mayor and saving us the $100 or so thousand.

      • Waldi Frankiewicz on

        Dave, your innate modesty can’t be a brake on your talent. My mom used to say: who can see further than the others, who goes beyond the usual framework of thinking is gifted with talent.You can’t miss out on elections if Providence allows it, and I’m sure you’ll overcome all the obstacles so that Huntsville can enjoy prosperity and fair rule again. Dave, you have my vote and the votes of many of my friends who have their homes and cottages in Huntsville.

  2. Waldi Frankiewicz on

    Dave, your wise words are the voice of a crying man in the desert (Isaiah in chapter 40, verses 3 and 4. The same words were repeated by the evangelist Mark in the context of John the Baptist (chapter 3, verses 1-12). Finally, the same John the Baptist himself according to the Gospel of John.). There’s a saying that says: “Wise man only needs one word to understand,a stupid man won’t understand even if you tell him a hundred times.These words refer to a situation where your opinion is expressed to an uninterested, disrespectful audience.If you look at their recent decisions, you can easily come to the conclusion that nothing will reach these people. No one is able to get them out of the madness in which they are immersed. Blinded by short-sightedness in a desperate quest to maintain power. They will do whatever it takes to keep their status quo unchanged. Their private war with the Huntsville people over the next 3 years of despotic power will drag our beautiful town to the bottom. After 3 years they will leave us with huge debts and problems without any punishment. After all, our politicians are guaranteed political immunity. No one is able to bring them to justice.

  3. Dave, with all due respect, I would suggest that your reasoning is slightly flawed. We can’t cherry pick..any one position on Council is not more or less important, therefore, either elect or appoint across the board. I also wish to give you the benefit of the doubt when you were implying, in my opinion , that our present Mayor (Her Worship) is any less informed or pro-active (my word) than our past Mayor; Ms T was present and accounted for when all the info was being communicated. Just because she is not as bombastic as Mr A doesn’t mean any less voracity, or conviction, when acting as our present Mayor.

    • Susan, just for clarity, by your logic, do you also believe an MPP is equivalent to the Premier? Is an MP equivalent to the Prime Minister? Leadership entails far more than being present/informed or proactive. It’s about inspiring, communication, decisiveness, intuition/judgement, experience, integrity/honesty and much more. All I am saying is let the people decide, not 5 or 6 Councillors. The cost is small, the stakes are not.

      • Sorry Dave, I’m not going to get embroiled in the “logic” argument; I stated my perspective, which I think is logical (and of course you’re always welcome to disagree) and yes, I took the other levels of government into consideration, but let’s go from there.. all the attributes you listed are important and our current Mayor has them. I felt you weren’t giving credit (maybe you don’t see your bias in your written words) where credit is well deserved. My opinion; we can leave it at that.

      • By your reasoning, it sounds like you equate the same stature to a Mayor as a Prime Minister? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? So that answers your question, I think, as to my logic. My point was, not the stature of the Mayor but, rather, the amount of knowledge and commitment our present Mayor holds.

        • My point was simply that not all elected roles are the same, regardless of the level of government. I am not equating roles in different levels of government. Its about the principal of democracy. At the municipal level, its why we vote separately for our Mayor. Given the issues at hand today, the people in our town should choose who their mayor will be for the next 3 years. That’s all I am saying.

      • Mr. Wilkin, we are observing an impeachment HEARING being held to the south of us; which, although just and righteous, will inevitably lead to the exact opposite result of the desired one. Obviously, it will reach the Senate (where it will just as obviously be defeated). BUT…the Republicans will delay the vote for as long as possible; thereby keeping six key Democratic candidates for President in Washington, when they should be in New Hampshire for the first primary.

        Now compare this situation to Huntsville’s. First and foremost, they are gambling a great deal for an additional year of Trump’s presidency; whereas we are dealing with three years. Ergo, their resolve is so much stronger that they will likely hand the presidency to Trump; rather than accept his outrageous disregard for the rule of law and common morality.

        We, on the other hand, are dealing with three years; but should we attempt (most likely unsuccessfully0 to impeach Mayor Terziano? I think not. And I will throw your list of descriptors back in your direction, and I challenge you to indicate which ones do not apply to Her Honour.

        The hospital issue is doubtless the most important issue on our agenda: but Ms. Terziano has been briefed by the previous Mayor during his tenure, and replaced him on the MAHC Committee. I am vehemently opposed to the patriarchal concept that an imposing man who speaks forcefully is somehow superior to a small lady, who “speaks gently and carries a big stick”.

        We have to look no further than our newly-minted Deputy Prime Minister to assess just how important such an individual is, and the amount of thought entailed in her/his selection. Christia Freeland is female, aboriginal, and was born in northern Alberta. Those are simply (and very importantly) accidents of birth; but as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs (a post she retains), she shepherded NAFTA to a satisfactory conclusion.

        I completely agree that I have been all over the map in my support of appointment vs. election. And, of course, democracy is of the utmost importance from the highest reaches of Canada to the smallest hamlets. But virtual impeachment, potentially, for doing a superior job in trying times, is an obscene abuse of the democratic process.

  4. I think with over 50 percent wanting the election its like England and brexit. Do what the people want and dont expect a second chance. Perhaps Boris will be up for a new job soon maybe he would like to run, that was a joke for anyone who didnt get it. We need a strong mayor who will stand up for the peoples choice of not two hospitals and not sinking us in debt for the next 100 years. I once commented that ive never seen a union job come in on budget or on time and i stick with that, it will end up being alot more than they are saying now.

    • David O Harrison on

      Dear Ms. Brown,

      I thought everyone from Huntsville is in favor of the two-hospital solution?

      I wish to quote you from the MAHC report:

      “By rigorously reviewing and scrutinizing initial cost estimates from the cost consultant, MAHC has reduced the estimated local share to $129 million for two new hospitals. Further detailed study of current hospital furniture, fixtures and equipment, and the projected usage and replacement of these assets has helped us project that MAHC will be able to transfer $35 million of furniture, fixtures and equipment to future hospitals,” says Matthews. “I’m encouraged that our Foundations studied their ability to fundraise special capital funds and together are prepared to raise $20 million for redevelopment, in addition to ongoing annual multi-million dollar contributions to replace current equipment and technology. That leaves a potential local share of $74 million to be funded over 15 years. There are resolutions of support from municipal councils in principle to contribute to the local share. With those commitments, we can satisfy the Ministry’s requirements, at this stage, for the financing plan.”

      The detailed mechanics of how the $74 million could be raised are being explored at the municipal and district levels. But as a simplified example to illustrate the potential magnitude, spreading the balance across 50,000 households over 15 years would cost each household approximately $8 a month. ”

      For the benefit of having local emergency care, I cannot figure out why anyone would not be in favour of having a local hospital. As these charges will be paid out of property taxes, those most financially challenged will be paying even less than this amount, if at money all.
      https://www.mahc.ca/Modules/News/index.aspx?newsId=c181ef44-7367-4adb-a139-1a550e0ade4e

      • David, the overly optimistic Local Share numbers from MAHC make no sense. This plan will be challenged and ultimately the unrealistic numbers will be exposed by the province, municipalities and informed citizens.

        Most in the community do want to keep their local hospital. They just don’t need nor expect a brand new one, when the current one can be upgraded and expanded … sooner, and at a much reduced cost.

  5. We could have an election and vote in the person council would have put in, so more money wasted.
    She has filled in many times for the mayor, and done a good job, so why not make the call and get on with important town business..

  6. Some of the responses to Dave Wilkin’s commentary are at best frivolous. No Dave is not a potential candidate for a mayoralty run but he is a very community minded individual that has dedicated hundreds of hours a year to advance information, appropriate decision making and advocacy in his community.
    I agree with Dave’s commentary completely and would suggest that those of us who believe the Town’s CEO
    (the title Mayor is referred to as CEO in the Municipal Act) must be chosen by the electorate of Huntsville.
    The role, accountabilities and function of a mayor is NOT parallel to the role of councillors. Mayors as CEOs provide chief executive duties including management of Council, driving strategic direction, long range economic direction and establishing functionality of both the Council and senior Town Hall salaried staff. If Council wants to appoint vacated councillor seats – so be it. But the Mayor must be chosen by the people who will hold the success (and failures) of the Town squarely on that individual.
    There are significant decision to be made over the next three years – the redevelopment and ramifications of MAHCs current stage 1B submission on taxes to Huntsville property owners, development planning in our Town both in the near term and longer term future and the effectiveness of services to town residents. The Mayor must have the mandate of the people, and not be made by likely four ballots in an in-council appointment race.
    For those of us who believe passionately in democratic accountability – memories will run long if Councillors choose to not support the principle of a by election’s imperative.
    Remember why your relatives died by the thousand to preserve our right to decide who will lead us.

  7. Council can consider three options to fill the vacancy—direct appointment, appointment by selection, and a by-election. However, if there are two or more candidates that wish to run for the position of Mayor of Huntsville, I suggest a
    by – election be called to fill all council vacancies .

  8. I agree with Dave Wilkin’s arguments. There are some major decisions facing our Community . It is better for the Community as a whole to have a vigorous public debate about each issue. The candidate who presents the best, the most researched, arguments deserves the majority of our voters. This is the essence and the value of our democratic system.

    • Marjory Goodwin on

      Dave Wilkin and Ross Maund continue to be the voices of reason and well informed advocates for the need to have Councillors vote in favour of conducting a by-election to fill the mayor’s seat. We , the constituents , need to hear the candidates and their debate as pointed out by Dave Scott in his comment. The Mayor’s seat is a leadership position and we need to know that a strong leader has been elected by us. This is the democratic way !
      I have no problem with my tax dollars being used to hold a by-election for Mayor selection. If I were a councillor sitting on the Town of Huntsville Council right now , in a stewardship capacity , there would be a request to staff to show the costs breakdown to hold an election. It might be surprising to find that the costs are near half of the quoted $100 000. due to fixed costs to the Town.
      On Nov.11 2019, I emailed each of our Councillors on Huntsville Town Council and asked that they respect the Democratic process and vote in favour of a by-election and let the people decide who should be Mayor. I suggest that everyone do the same and contact the councillors individually by accessing their email addresses on the Town of Huntsville website.

  9. Here’s a considerably important piece. Who is now the acting Deputy Mayor? This Councillor should not be allowed to vote on the preliminary decision of whether to have an election or appointment, due to potential bias and conflict. There’s now 2 Councillors that will need to step from this decision vote. Any bets there may be more?

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