Unusual challenge raised to Central council minutes

CENTRAL MANITOULIN—The acceptance of a previous council’s meeting minutes is usually a pro forma agenda item, with corrections usually limited to spelling or grammar issues, but after reviewing the October 13 Central Manitoulin council minutes, Councillor Derek Stephens discovered he had a major challenge.

“I will move the motion to put it on the table,” he said, with Councillor Dale Scott seconding the motion, “but in regards to 383-16, the minutes indicate that the motion was defeated, but that motion passed.” Councillor Scott was in the chair when the motion in question was debated as Mayor Stephens had vacated the chair indicating he wished to speak on the motion.

In response to Councillor Stephens, Mayor Richard Stephens replied that “all the votes were not counted at the meeting. There were six people there, when the chair of the meeting called for the vote, three were in favour, one was against and one voted in abstention (under the Municipal Act, abstentions are counted as negative votes). The other vote wasn’t accounted for.”

Mayor Stephens asserted that the sixth vote was not accounted for until the following Sunday, when he contacted Councillor Scott and asked him two questions. “I asked him if he had voted and if he had voted, how he would have voted,” supplied the mayor. “He indicated to me that he would have voted against it.”

Councillor Stephens pointed out that the motion had been voted on in open council and declared as carried by the chair of the meeting. He pointed out that the chair of council, normally the mayor, does not vote on motions unless there is a tie or a recorded vote is called for. “The vote was three to two, so there was no tie, so there was no need to vote,” he said.

The Municipal Act’s section 244 declares that “Except as provided in sections 233 and 238, no vote shall be taken by ballot or by any other method of secret voting and every vote so taken is of no effect.” Call around votes by telephone are not an exception.

“My notion is that all of the councillors should vote,” replied Mayor Stephens.

“One, there is no such thing as abstentions,” agreed Councillor Stephens, “two, the chair of the meeting stated that the motion had carried and three, I don’t think it is appropriate to get an opinion over the phone as to how that person would have voted. He said carried.”

“That is exactly why I asked the question,” insisted Mayor Stephens.

“Traditionally our chair has not voted,” pointed out Councillor Patricia MacDonald. “I know if I am doing the vote I look for four hands.”

“In Dale’s (Scott) case it was three-two,” noted Councillor Stephens.

“His vote had an impact as to how the vote on the motion was going to be decided,” replied Mayor Stephens.

“As a chair, he didn’t have a vote,” replied Councillor Stephens.

“The chair is at the table,” said Mayor Stephens.

“We had a vote, the vote was three to two, there was no tie,” said Councillor Alex Baran.

Councillor Scott, who was sitting as chair during the debate on the motion, agreed. “As Alex said, it was three to two, I didn’t feel the obligation to vote,” he said. “It didn’t matter how I was going to vote, I didn’t feel the requirement for it. The vote was three to two, that is why I said carried.”

“He has to vote if it would have an affect on the vote,” rejoined Mayor Stephens. “It is not a life and death situation.”

Councillor MacDonald pointed out that the chair had indicated the motion was carried. “We can’t change the minutes because somebody said on the phone that they would have voted against the motion had they voted,” she said.

“My understanding is that we are not to vote (if the cast votes do not come to a tie),” said Councillor Scott. “If it had been three, three, I would have had to vote.”

Councillor MacDonald suggested that the motion be sent back to committee to be revisited.

“No, I am not willing to do that,” challenged Councillor Stephens. “This motion was carried. I think the mayor is changing that because it is what he wanted. To try and work that around is word play. That motion is carried and it should be noted in the minutes as carried.”

“In my opinion, all the votes have to be accounted for, I would like to see it sent back,” said Mayor Stephens.

“That is what you are doing,” rejoined Councillor Stephens. “Getting what you wanted.”

After discussion with the acting clerk, the council came to the realization that removing the motion from the minutes was not an option and that sending all of the motions back would be unwieldy.

“I am not in favour of sending everything back to committee,” said Councillor MacDonald.

A recorded motion was called for on the motion to approve minutes, with a friendly amendment agreed upon by the mover, Councillor Stephens, and the seconder, Councillor Scott, to indicate that motion 383-16, a motion to approve the drainage report, be carried.

Councillors Stephens, MacDonald, Scott, Baran and Ted Taylor voted for the motion, while Councillor Linda Farquhar and Mayor Stephens voted against the motion. The motion carried.