Tehkummah Township vacancy stymies council

TEHKUMMAH—The August 27 resignation of Tehkummah municipal councillor Laird Lee for health and family reasons put council under a deadline to find a suitable method of choosing his replacement. The first order of business was to declare the council seat vacant, which the council proceeded to do, but when it came to deciding how to proceed to fill the vacant seat, council rejected all possible options.

Once council had declared the seat vacant, they have 60 days to decide how they will fill that council seat according to the Municipal Act (unless the vacancy occurs within 90 days before voting day in the next general election, council must arrange to fill the empty seat).

Clerk/treasurer Karen Gerard outlined the options available to council under the Municipal Act. In a nutshell, those options were to either appoint someone to fill the vacant seat for the remaining year of this council term (municipal elections take place on October 22, 2018) or to hold a by-election.

She noted that if council decided to fill the vacancy by appointment, they must appoint a person who is eligible to serve on the council or board and who is willing to accept the appointment. The legislation does not set out any other criteria. It is up to council to determine how they will decide who to appoint.

Ms. Gerard noted that there are different approaches to making appointments, including appointing the candidate who came second in the general election, inviting interested persons to apply for the position, or offering the appointment to a member of the community. The Municipal Act notes that sometimes councils want to put additional restrictions on appointees, such as requiring that an appointee agree not to run in the next general election. While a council or board may set this as a condition for appointment, there is nothing in provincial legislation that would prevent someone who was appointed from running in the next election. 

If the position was to be advertised, council would go into closed session to discuss the merits of those who have applied to fill the vacancy to make their decision.

If the decision is to go with a by-election, it is the municipal clerk who is in charge of conducting it, specifically, council does not decide when nomination day or voting day will be. Those dates are determined by the clerk.

Nominations close at 2 pm nomination day. The clerk has leeway of 60 days to set the nomination day, the election takes place 45 days later.

The appointment process would take about 30 to 45 days, noted Ms. Gerard. The vacancy would be advertised until October 13 and the appointment taking effect November 11.

The election process would require setting a nomination date followed by a 45-day by-election campaign period.

“I can’t support appointing the runner up in the last election because the difference between that person and the next on the list was one vote,” said Councillor Paul Bowerman. “That would have triggered a recount.” There was general acknowledgement of that around the council table.

Ms. Gerard had prepared motions for all options going forward and council first voted on a motion to appoint. Council then voted on a prepared motion to appoint a replacement in a recorded vote. Councillors Paul Bowerman and Ron Hierons voted against the motion, Councillor Lori Leeson and Reeve Eric Russell voted in favour. As the vote was tied, it was defeated.

Council was then left with the default option to hold a by-election, but the motion to hold a by-election also failed. In that recorded vote Councillor Bowerman and Councillor Hierons voted for the motion while Councillor Lorie Leeson and Reeve Eric Russell voted against the motion. With a tie once again, the motion was defeated.

Cost estimates by administration on the holding of a by-election set the tab at about $5,000. Tehkummah has alternative voting options in place, which include mail in ballots going out to the 700-odd eligible voters. There is no need to rent a hall or hire extra staff for the by-election. The exception to the staffing requirements would be on election day itself.

Unless council decides at a future meeting within 60 days on a way to fill the vacancy (as required by the Municipal Act), the way forward to breaking the impasse would be for a qualified elector to make application to the courts to force the issue.