Tough choices in Councillor replacement

Mayor McLaughlin sent us this commentary on Council’s decision to appoint a replacement for the late Bernard Cameron:

Shaun-e1435063193193As most readers know, Council needs to fill the empty seat held by the late Bernard Cameron. We knew that, no matter which option we chose, we’d face criticism. In politics, decisions rarely find favor with all; but this case is more polarizing than most.

The Municipal Act provides two options: hold a by-election or appoint a replacement from among eligible electors. The act gives no guidance on appointments other than the selection process must be open—that is, not held behind closed doors.

The most democratic choice is a by-election. Many of us favor putting the decision in the hands of voters but we are also tight with taxpayers’ funds. The estimated cost is in excess of $20,000. Also, stats show voter turnout at by-elections is low. Had we gone that route, hordes of residents would have complained about wasting money.

In the past, most town councils here and elsewhere simply appointed the next runner-up from the previous election. In our case, that is former Almonte ward Councillor Rickie Minnelli. Many of his friends and supporters have lambasted Council members for not automatically applying precedent.

Times have changed. Research by our clerk, Shawna Stone, shows the trend among small to medium-sized Ontario municipalities is towards an application process. We chose that route. Council and staff took the best ideas from other towns and created a procedure that includes an interview of applicants and a two-stage voting process in an open public forum. The interviews will occur April 12 and the vote on April 19.

It is unfortunate that the Municipal Act does not permit a secret ballot in this case. The open vote puts every member of Council in the spotlight. Since councillors’ choices may garner criticism, might that affect their votes?

I encourage Rickie Minnelli to apply. His experience representing Almonte likely gives him an advantage. I expect other former councillors and candidates will also apply.

See the municipal website for details and the application form: http://www.mississippimills.ca/en/townhall/mayorcouncil.asp