In a recorded vote of six to two, Huntsville councillors opted to appoint their mayor from within.
The position became vacant when former Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison successfully ran in the 2019 federal election and became this riding’s Member of Parliament.
In a majority vote, Huntsville council directed the municipal clerk, Tanya Calleja, to ask councillors interested in the position to submit their interest in writing. The names will then be considered for an appointment at Huntsville’s December 17, 2019 council meeting.
Councillor Brian Thompson kicked off the discussion by saying he’d be in favour of appointing the mayor from the existing council members. He said if council were to opt for a byelection in order to fill the mayor’s position, it could potentially result in three byelections, which could take a lot of time and money.
“The argument that council, as we’re sitting here today, would not be responsible in making this kind of a decision, I think it doesn’t hold water with me, I think that’s what we’re elected for,” argued Thompson.
Councillor Nancy Alcock was also in support of filling the position from one of the current council members. “We have a number of people around this table who I think would be excellent mayors and we have at least two of them who… have expressed some interest in that so, again, we’re fortunate. Not all councils would have that opportunity.”
She said her concern with a byelection is that with a new administration, or a new mayor, the direction agreed to by council at the beginning of its current mandate would be put on “a hold zone… while we go through this process… I believe since the last election we’ve got a very solid mandate.”
“I happen to have a different view,” said Councillor Tim Withey. He said he supports a byelection and, contrary to Councillor Alcock, said he did not believe that a “closed group should make a decision like this and there’s still plenty of time,” he noted.
“That would be kind of the main issue for me is the time left on the clock. If we were discussing this decision with less than a year left, I’d say let the Deputy Mayor [Karin Terziano] ride it out but there’s too much time, it’s just over three years that would be left. Three years was the entire mandate ten years ago,” he said, adding that while council considers the options, “I think we must consider three pillars of our democracy, which are accountability, legitimacy, and transparency,” said Withey who called for a free and fair election for the position of mayor. Withey also argued that by going with an election process, “every elected official would be mindful of their responsibility to the people who put them there.”
Councillor Jonathan Wiebe said he shared the view of councillors Thompson and Alcock in preferring to appoint the mayor from the existing council. “I believe that within us we have very capable members that could fill this role and much the way Councillor Withey spoke to fulfilling the wishes of their constituents, in all the discussions I’ve had, as I do with most big decisions, I reach out to my constituents.” He said he had spoken to almost 100 people and the majority indicated they’d support “to appoint within our ranks. So I’m going to represent my constituents the best way I know how to, and I’m going to vote for that option.”
Councillor Jason FitzGerald said it was a difficult decision. “Much like Councillor Wiebe, I’ve reached out to my constituents and the resounding answer from my constituents is they respect the decisions that I make on their behalf and they put me in this position to make those decisions, regardless of the magnitude of the decision. Out of everyone I’ve talked to two people suggested that we have a byelection, and I’m well over 500 people I’ve discussed this with… the resounding answer from them is option A [to appoint a member to fill the position of mayor from existing councillors],” he said.
Councillor Dionne Schumacher also voted in favour of appointing an existing council member, noting that it had been done before while also questioning whether having to revisit procedures like the appointment of committees was prudent.
On the other hand, Councillor Dan Armour, who said he had been sitting on the fence on the issue, said he was leaning towards a byelection due to the amount of time still left in this council’s mandate. “We’ll see what plays out,” he concluded.
In the end, the majority of councillors voted in favour of appointing the mayor from within, while both Withey and Armour voted against that option, preferring to hold a byelection to fill the mayor’s position.
While Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano, who has openly declared her interest in the position, did not speak to the options on the table, she did vote in favour of appointing a current council member for the position of mayor.
Whichever member of council gets appointed as mayor at the December council meeting, their position will then have to be declared vacant and council will again have the same options to fill it, according to Calleja. Those options will include the following: appointing another member of council, appointing the candidate who ran for the position in the 2018 municipal election, an appointment from those interested in running from the community-at-large, or a byelection.
If the position left behind by the person appointed as mayor is again filled by appointing from one of the existing council members, it stands to reason that eventually someone will need to fill a council vacancy from outside of council — whether by appointment or a byelection.
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