Listen Up! Council’s job is to make tough decisions; let them appoint new mayor

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Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Are you up for another election?

I wonder how many people are up for another election. At the federal level, we have just finished one. It was nasty and divisive and pretty much ended up in a hung jury and a seriously divided country. As a result, we could have another national election at any time, although, in all likelihood, because political parties have to rebuild their treasure chests and get past their mutiny instincts, no one is likely to defeat the Liberal minority government for at least the next two years, and if anyone did my sense is that many of us would be severely ticked off.

Here in Huntsville, however, it could be a different matter. We could be facing a municipal election as early as this coming February—little more than a year after the last one. The reason, of course, is that Scott Aitchison, who has been our mayor for the last five years, has been elected as the Member of Parliament for the riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka. He will do well in his new position. He is a people person. He is articulate. He has years of experience in the political realm. He is well acquainted with the issues in both Muskoka and Parry Sound and during his time as mayor he has learned to be more sensitive and tolerant of the needs and priorities of others and to strongly represent their interests. He is also very aware that his job is to represent everyone, not just those who voted for him. My sense is that, barring some kind of catastrophic event, Scott Aitchison’s tenure as our MP will be a long one, consistent with many of his predecessors.

So what happens now, in terms of replacing him? On Tuesday, at a special council meeting, the office of mayor will be declared vacant. Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano will assume the position as head of council until a new mayor is either elected or appointed. The process as to how a new mayor will be selected will be decided by council at their next meeting later this month.

According to the Ontario Municipal Act, Huntsville council can call an election for mayor or they can decide to agree on an appointment. If they decide on an appointment, they have three additional options. They can appoint from the community at-large, they can appoint the runner up for mayor in the last municipal election, or they can restrict the appointment to current members of council. Of all of these options, I support an appointment restricted to the current members of council.

There are those who will argue that the only democratic process is to have a general election so that the public can decide who will fill the remainder of Scott Aitchison’s term of office. I respectfully disagree for both practical and democratic reasons.

We elect councils to make decisions on our behalf during their term of office. That is the democratic process. If we don’t like their decisions, we throw them out at the first opportunity, but their job, which is not always easy, is to make the tough choices and not fall back on the electorate to make them for them.

In this instance, the odds and the arguments are heavily in favour of an appointment from members of the current council, even if there are those who strongly disagree. Here, in my opinion, is why.

There is a high likelihood that whatever method is chosen by council, the next mayor will come from within its membership. Both Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano and District Councillor Tim Withey have indicated an interest in the job. Both, in one form or another, have a mandate from the people. It is true that in the last election cycle, Karin Terziano was acclaimed as the representative from Huntsville Ward. But in every contested municipal election she has run in, and there have been several at both the District and local levels, she has topped the polls. That may have discouraged people from running against her in Huntsville Ward, but her acclamation, nevertheless, is still a mandate. While Councillor Withey has finished third in the last two elections he has contested, because Huntsville is entitled to three District councillors plus the mayor, third still counts, so he too has a mandate from the people.

There is a possibility that there could be three council positions to be filled. If any member of council becomes mayor, their current position will have to be dealt with. If the successful candidate is a member of District council, then that position will have to be filled. If the person who takes up that District seat is an area councillor, then that is another seat that needs to be dealt with.

So do we have two standards here? Do we provide for the possibility of three elections at taxpayers’ expense or, remembering that the mayor like all other members of council, has only one vote, do we have one rule for that position and another for an appointment process for the other vacancies that may occur?

Another election for mayor at this time will cost in the neighbourhood of $100,000 which is not in any budget. Some will say that their definition of democracy trumps an expenditure of a hundred grand. I say we have democratically elected our officials to make decisions on our behalf, that the outcome would very likely be a member of council in any event, and think how many roads we can fix with the money we save.

Since the municipal election last year, until a few days ago, there have been 14 vacancies on local councils in Ontario. A number of them were the head of those bodies. Every single one of those vacancies has been filled by appointment rather than by an election at-large. So, the question must be asked, if we opt for an election for mayor and possibly other council positions, are every one of those councils that opted for the appointment process out of step, or could it possibly be us?

Surely, that is worth thinking about.

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28 Comments

  1. Your reasoning is sound Hugh. More taxpayer money for getting our roads fixed is a good reason for appointment as well. Democracy is still served ( by appointment) with other communities following that path; our municipality should follow suit, in my opinion. Another election will come soon enough!

    • Marcia Mackesy on

      One question that has yet to be addressed, what is the cost associated with appointing a mayor?
      Additionally, the price tag of $100,000 for an election has been discussed but what is the breakdown of that?

      • What about the additional cost to hold a second or third election to fill councillor positions?
        Let’s appoint and get on with business.

  2. As you know Hugh, we have been debating this issue quite a bit at our house. You also know I have been swaying back and forth about how to fill the vacated mayors seat.

    All of your arguments are valid. I also see validity in having an election.

    I have come to rest on the side of council appointing our next mayor.

    What made the decision for me is not the fact that it will cost somewhere around $100,000 but the fact that the majority of that hundred grand will go to an out of town business. If we were hiring local election workers, i would be in favour of having an election.

    Council should be mindful of where our tax dollars are spent. An out of town digital election provider isn’t a good way to help our town. Spending $100,000 within our borders makes more sense.

    I trust council to make the right decision. That is why we elect them.

  3. Frances Botham on

    Appointing a mayor is back room politics at its worse. Mention is made of 14 appointments to council in other municipalities. Why is this important? If everyone jumps off a cliff, does that mean we must follow? LOL!
    Transparency with the people making this decision is the only appropriate route. Let’s not make the cost of an election an issue here. This is the municipality that sold the train station for $2. The same municipality that sold the Waterloo Centre for approx. $10 million less than it cost to build. We need an election to decide this crucial issue.

    • There is nothing back room nor non transparent about an appointment . It is consideration of known skills and abilities that will best serve the citizens and taxpayers of this Community . Reject Elect ,

      • Frances Botham on

        We, the people, are the ones to make this decision. This is our democratic right. The elected councillors should not think that they have the “god like” authority to dictate to us, to choose on our behalf. Even though legally they can choose to appoint, this should only be exercised with the unanimous sanction of the voting public. There are many in this town expressing opposition. No one is accusing patronage here, though with such zeal to squash an election, it makes one wonder what is really going on behind closed doors? So many questionable incidents have occurred over the years with no rush of feedback from anyone anywhere. Why not? Is it necessary to dredge up issues that perhaps should be reexamined in order to emphasize that our role in this decision making not be compromised?

    • I totally agree with Frances. Since when has our democratic right to vote for a mayor been changed to an appointment process with possibly many past disgruntled and current ones making the decision? Okay then, appoint me, I have the credentials , …. but more appropriately, Tim Withey is the best choice, if we are really interested in keeping our hospital! Election is the only valid way ! How many agree?
      .
      I would just like to add that today is Remembrance Day …. to those who fought for our right to be Canadian and to defend us from the very thing that is being discussed and promoted here, which is our free right to vote for a leader. Elections are necessary to our democracy ! The obvious choice for appointment would, of course , be a past mayoral candidate.

  4. Once again, you are right on, Hugh. This is an easy decision. Karin Terziano is the only reasonable replacement for Mayor, whether she is appointed or elected. She has filled in twice now, and done a great job. Lets save $100,000.00, appoint her, and move on!

  5. Hugh, we have discussed this situation. I told you I believe in the Democratic process which could result in an election for Mayor by the taxpayers at the cost of well over $100,000, however I also believe we elected 8 other counselors, other than the departed Mayor, to represent the citizens and taxpayers of the Town of Huntsville. If we collectively made the decisions to elect these 8 individuals, why can we not trust them to appoint a new Mayor for the approximate 3 years remaining? We should also be able to trust them to appoint a new counselor to represent our concerns at the Huntsville council table. If an election for Mayor is decided to be the way to go, then do we also have to have a further election to fill the vacancy that one of these persons would be leaving? So we have a snowball effect, which could cost the Municipality probably close to $200,000. As you have stated, no other Municipality has gone this route, nor should the Town of Huntsville. As I have stated, we elected a council 1 year ago to represent the people and we should trust them to do what is best for the Town and the Taxpayers.

    • Use the Democratic process and have the mayor’s seat filled by conducting an election. Holding an election provides an opportunity for anyone from the community to put their name forward and run for the position.
      With 3/4 of the term remaining, it is essential that the people dictate the decision not the council. In a recent poll on Hunter’s Bay radio, 50 % supported a by-election and 50% agreed with an appointment . Maybe the council should ask for community input on which method to use. This is a big deal!

  6. WOW!
    Huntsville democracy should rule, a bad appointment now could cost you more than $100,000. Personalities are not a decision-maker competency, however, is, so leave your prejudices at the front door and elect by the people.
    Make Huntsville the leader of Muskoka!!!

  7. Waldi Frankiewicz on

    Democracy is not a thing given once and for all. It is a state that has to be maintained with difficulty and everyday effort, and that is not given as a gift. We got it, but now we have to do everything to perfect it, to keep it and not to degenerate. Democracy is like a garden. If we stop watering it, fertilizing it and trimming dried branches, it will become wild and dry.Democracy is a political system, a system that offers the greatest opportunities for people to live according to their needs and beliefs. So that they feel empowered and have the impression that the reality is also up to them and that they feel respected as citizens whose voice – even if they are in a minority – counts.Democracy is a hellishly difficult system, but in fact it is the only one that can, under favorable conditions, secure good conditions for the functioning of a larger number of people in society, such a large common denominator.Finding the right keywords to defend democracy today is only possible for those who are really committed to honesty. I am not a specialist, but maybe now only the biblical ‘truth will set you free’ is the only thing that will save our Huntsville democracy.

    **Let’s celebrate the Free Election**

  8. Hugh, I disagree on filling the office of the Mayor. I firmly believe that an election should be held. I appreciate that the cost is high but, what price democracy? If you go with an appointment process, then a few Town residents will be choosing a new Mayor. They will be selecting their opinion of the best of the candidates who self-nominate. What if the pool to choose from is “lean”? Look at what happened in the Township of Lake of Bays – the remaining Councillors chose the “best” candidate and ended up with a candidate who owned property in the Township but lived in Huntsville. I believe that if an election had been held, the outcome would have been different.

    If a new Mayor is chosen from the existing Councillor pool, then appointment should be used to backfill that position.

  9. Leave the money question alone! Democracy is more than saving money! It is an arduous process, but it must be honoured! To be truly democratic we must have an election, open to all eligible voters.
    And please let’s not have another disatrous electronic/phone system. As Debi Davis said let’s spend the money close at home.

  10. Murray Christenson on

    I’m in agreement with you Hugh. We have democratically elected representatives, let them do their their job. And really, at the end of the day, Mayor is a part time job and the position has no more real power than the one vote that comes with it…all other duties are administrative, symbolic and ceremonial. If we spend 100k we don’t have, we are essentially doubling the outlay for the part time job for the next 3 years. Nope.

  11. I’m aware that you assiduously read the Comments section of The Doppler, Hugh; so for what it’s worth (not much, due to my general contrarian leanings), you are aware that I agree with you 100%. It may be heart-warming to some to see so many applauding the democratic process; but what exactly should that entail?

    The primary precept of any democracy is that all citizens be treated equally. And as a volunteer at all 4 levels of government for the last 25 years, I aver that none of my volunteering would have been required,if our country actually honoured this precept. Furthermore, I warrant that the majority of respondents crying “Election!” have devoted minimal thought or effort to improving the lot of their fellow citizens, who have been treated inequitably.

    So please just let the Council appoint Ms. Terziano (no offense, Mr. Withey), and get on with the business of decision-making of substantive importance. The Town has an aggressive agenda for 2020, and even $100K is significant; not to mention the fact that after the expenditure, the result would be a foregone conclusion.

  12. I agree the positions should be filled by appointment by councillors that already have one or many years of experience and know each other well. There has been no incident that would lead anyone to seriously question the integrity or competence of current council members. If the President of the USA needed to be replaced, the constitution lays out the path to succession until the next regular election. The Prime Minister of Canada would be replaced by an interim appointment. Most non-governmental organizations elect their directors and the directors in turn elect their officers from among themselves. That process results in directors willingly following their leader and that facilitates progress. Another election at this time would disrupt progress on important work that needs to be done. These are likely the facts that convinced the other 14 municipalities to replace by appointment.

  13. Waldi Frankiewicz on

    Reading the previous speakers, I come to the conclusion that “a large part of people do not want to make any decisions and very willingly puts their fate in the hands of others”. – There is a need to get rid of responsibility for one’s fate,it’s probably due to the fact that not all people have the same degree of need for freedom, and some people do not have any at all.

    • Well said. I agree with Waldi Frankiewicz totally. I don’t like having my freedom of choice usurped. It smacks of a dictatorial agenda to be told that the mayor’s post should be filled by Karen Terziano, because this has been decided in the back room. Don’t misunderstand. I think Ms Terziano is a fine individual. My point is that we should have the right to choose. There may be others who decide to run for this office that are equally as qualified as Terziano, or perhaps more qualified. It’s a very important position, one that we must choose as a whole, not to be selected by the chosen few.

  14. Waldi Frankiewicz on

    *Expiry of the mayor’s term of office before the end of his or her term of office – how has it been resolved in European countries? If the mandate of the mayor expires before the end of the term of office, early elections are held (Article 28d(1) of the Act on Municipal Self-Government). The expiry of the mandate of the mayor before the end of his term of office is tantamount to the dismissal of his deputy or deputies. The European Union undertook to introduce such legislative measures in the early 1990s. A simple solution without the need to resort to solutions dictated by political acts, while completely negating legal acts resulting from the constitution binding on us in Canada.

  15. Using your precedent of the 14 vacancies…..that would make Peggy Peterson the Mayor of Huntsville (the majority of those 14 appointments was the losing candidate). Is that what you meant say????….or are you simply lobbying for your favourite

  16. Karen Wehrstein on

    I’m fine with practical and logical arguments against another election, e.g. that those choosing the replacement mayor are democratically elected themselves, that next time we pick a mayor it’ll be back to the usual way, that elections are expensive, etc.
    .
    But discouraging an election because you feel another election was divisive and nasty? And resulted in a minority government, and a supposedly more divided country?
    .
    That’s a very slippery slope, Hugh. Not a place you really want to go. Consider the logical extension of having fewer elections because they’re messy. Let’s make government super-tidy by having no elections at all!
    .
    Democracy *is* messy. That’s the price of freedom. There’s a reason Churchill called it “the worst form of Government except for all those other forms”.
    .
    Right now I am watching, on the edge of my seat, patriotic Americans fighting to retain their democracy against fascistic, white-supremacist, sexist elements of international organized crime teamed up with certain 1%ers and most of the elected Republican Party because someone on their team lied and cheated his way into the Oval Office. (Anyone who thinks that Trump’s only defect is being impolite and just a tad crooked is *not* paying attention.) He *only* got caught withholding desperately-needed military aid to the Ukraine to pressure them into making up lies about Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton so as to interfere with a *second* presidential election because one courageous and patriotic whistleblower came forward. And it was barely in time: the Ukrainian president was about to go on CNN and announce kangaroo “investigations” into Biden and Clinton. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is using social media to spread lies to get right-wing parties elected all over the Western democratic world, and turn citizens against each other (yes, it’s right in the old KGB playbook), so as to weaken and eventually destroy democracy, a system he considers “obsolete.”
    .
    This fight is being fought very close to us. Just south of that border. Right in our backyard.
    .
    There’s a reason Benjamin Franklin, when asked what kind of country the USA would be, answered “A republic — if you can keep it.” Democracy is like a muscle – it’s use it or lose it. I think you need to do a little soul-searching on this one, Hugh.

  17. While I don’t like the appointment aspect of selecting a mayor for Huntsville if we are to hold an election then the current counselors who would run should have to step down from their current positions on counsel to run for mayor so we only have one election for all positions, not two or even three at $100,000 each.

    • This is the real elephant in the back room, no politician wants to take that gamble. Any politician that ran for mayor in past elections and lost should definitely not be considered. It would be a slap in the face to the voters. A mayor may only have one vote but he is the de facto leader of the council and the voters should have the right to choose their leaders. Hold an election and have those councillors intent on running resign their seats before they declare. Make it a real horse race where there are actual stakes on the race. That is true transparency. The real leaders will come forward.

      • Frances Botham on

        Your comment “any politician that ran for mayor in past elections and lost should definitely not be considered. It would be a slap in the face to voters”.
        John Diefenbaker stood for election to the House of Commons in Canada, defeated in 1925, 1926. but was elected on his third try in 1940.
        Abraham Lincoln lost 8 elections before he was elected to become one of the greatest presidents in history.
        It’s a good thing they didn’t listen to the nay sayers!

  18. Waldi Frankiewicz on

    Dear Mrs. Karen any political system, not only in Russia or the United States but in every country in the world, has to cope with the divergent expectations and claims that society – and its different segments – has directed society towards them. It also has to deal with conflicts of interest existing in society, conflicts of values and world views, conflicts of identity. In a democratic mechanism built on market principles, such conflicts are solved in the course of political struggle. Democracy has come a long way in evolution over the last few thousand years.From a direct democracy that lasted almost until the end of the 18th century, it began to transform into an intermediate democracy and has recently become an adversarial democracy.French political scientist and philosopher Chantal Mouffe says that every fight is about defeating and destroying an opponent, about killing him. The fight in democracy does not lead to the physical destruction of the opponent, but to the political destruction of the opponent. Losers do not lose life or freedom, but they can lose power, social position, reputation and sometimes livelihood. The direct aim of the fight is to gain power and implement programmes which the victorious party considers to be beneficial and right. It defines the public interest. Jane Mansbridge, an American researcher, described this type of political relationship as an adversarial democracy. It creates conditions for the realisation of the interests of the strongest social groups.Ontario is no exception, so I am not surprised that political lobbies replace democratic methods of governance with instrumental methods. *Why should you elect someone to the post of mayor by election when you can do it cheaply and pleasantly by using a political act we have enacted that allows you to appoint a person already working for the municipal council without your participation?**We’ll do it for you because we value your time and money*.*14 municipalities and towns have already decided to use this option. You can too.*

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