By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
In what could be the most contentious decision of the term thus far, the majority of councillors opted for appointments instead of a byelection in order to fill the council vacancy left behind by the sudden passing of Nancy Diamond.
Filling the gap resulted in two appointments that took place at council’s regular meeting on Monday. First, council voted 5-3 to appoint city councillor Doug Sanders to fill Diamond’s regional and city councillor role. Following that, Gail Bates, the next runner up on the city councillor election ballot, was called up to fill his place.
For the second time in as many months, council chambers were nearly filled to capacity as members of the public packed in to witness council’s final decision.
Nearly 10 delegates appeared before council with their thoughts on what should be done. There were calls for a byelection, and for the appointment of former regional and city councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri to fill Diamond’s seat as he was the runner up on the regional/city councillor ballot, less than 150 votes behind Councillor Bob Chapman.
It was an option recommended by a pair of delegates, including former longtime councillor Joe Kolodzie, who stated that if a byelection weren’t the preferred option, the only other choice would be to appoint Marimpietri. Anything else would be a “travesty of the democratic process,” he said.
His remarks were met with a round of applause from those in attendance. And it wouldn’t be the last time the gallery shared their sentiments with councillors, whether it be boos or applause for their fellow speakers. Mayor John Henry was forced repeatedly to attempt to silence the crowd.
Following the decision, the mayor labelled the final choice as a “no-win situation” for council.
“It doesn’t matter what you do. You either want a byelection or you want an appointment, so tonight, not everyone will be happy, but the process will continue and the city will have representation at the region.”
The choice wasn’t what those in attendance were looking for, with the final vote being met with a loud outcry of dissent.
Prior to the motions approval, Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, who voted against the decision along with Councillor John Shields and Rick Kerr, attempted several methods to push the decision further down the road, attempting to refer, defer, table and call for a further public meeting. However, all of the motions failed. Councillors John Neal and Dan Carter were absent from the meeting.
“It needs to be done in a democratic manner,” McQuaid-England said, “so that we instill faith in the community that the decision we made is valid.”
Councillors Shields and Kerr joined her in opposition, with Shields calling for a byelection and Kerr noting that the “logic doesn’t work” for council’s route. He further added that if council was willing to fill the vacant city seat left behind by Sanders by appointing the next top vote-getter, then that’s what should be done for the city/regional seat as well.
Yet the support for Sanders was stronger around the table.
“At the regional council, we need that support and Councillor Sanders has been here this whole term,” says Councillor Bob Chapman. “He knows what the Oshawa issues are.”
He argued that appointing someone to the regional role off the ballot would require a period of time for them to be brought up to speed on all the issues facing the region, including confidential matters.
And while McQuaid-England admitted she would support Sanders in such a role, “it is not my choice to make,” she said.
“I’m actually quite shocked at the reaction of this council,” she added. “You’re disengaging the public, you’re telling them their vote doesn’t matter.”
Bates’ appointment was met with the same opposition from the trio of councillors and with the same tactics from McQuaid-England to delay the decision. These attempts also all failed.
“It’s the public’s choice to make,” she said. “When we decide for the public who represents them, we allow the democratic process to be eroded.”
Many in attendance viewed the final decision as a farce, claiming that councillors had already made up their minds prior to hearing what the public had to say.
“This has to be the most egregious violation of democracy that I’ve ever seen at any level of council,” said former councillor Brian Nicholson following the decision. “There was no transparency tonight.
“There was a meeting in the mayor’s office with five members of council who came out here and ambushed…three of their own colleagues with a motion appointing a member of council to a position and a citizen to replace him,” alleged Nicholson.
The same concern was on the mind of McQuaid-England.
“It makes me concerned how much was done before the meeting,” she said. “We’re just finalizing what’s already been discussed.”
For Sanders, he says he was approached about taking the position beforehand, but nothing more.
“I was asked if I would consider it and I said if someone nominated me then yes, I would consider it,” he says. “It’s not a process that’s done behind closed doors, let’s be honest here. Let’s just say that we were as open and transparent as we possibly could be.”
He admits that the decision is not one that is going to please everyone. This is the second time the councillor has received a role on council via an appointment, the first time coming in 2011 following an election that saw Sanders place third, and the original winner not taking the seat.
“You have to make tough decisions and these were tough decisions that have been made today,” Sanders said. “This is my second time being appointed, so it’s a hard decision on my part to say yes.”
Sanders added he had checked with the city clerk to ensure it was proper for him to vote on the motion to approve his appointment. A role as a regional councillor comes with an additional salary.
“People will imply that it was a conflict of interest, but it’s not a conflict because I’m not in the seat,” he says.
City clerk Andrew Brouwer says that under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, council appointments are listed under the exceptions to the rules.
Speaking after the meeting, Bates also wanted to express that she did not urge councillors to put her name forward.
“I wanted to make this very clear. I did not lobby, I did not ask them to nominate me. I was approached, I said yes I was willing to serve should I be appointed and that’s what happened,” she said. “I really believe in the democratic process. I understand why the appointment took place because of the length of time left in term and I think that should be the only reason why they felt they had to have an appointment.”
Bates finished with 6,014 votes in the 2014 election, more than 2,000 votes behind the third-place Kerr.
A retired nurse, she says she has spent the last two months in Florida with family but has been keeping up to date with municipal politics.
“We have social media now, so we’re kept up to date pretty much all the time,” she says.
Her new role, following approval from the clerk and a swearing in ceremony, will see her placed on the corporate services and finance committees. She says it’s a little early for her to say what she may have to offer to those committees, but she hopes to champion development at the waterfront and downtown revitalization.
“I’m willing to serve in whatever capacity they choose,” she says. “So if that means finance committee, if that means corporate services, I have no problem with either of those whatsoever. I’d like to have a little bit of time to get my feet wet.”
If some members of the public have it their way, she may not get the chance.
Nicholson says that a group is already forming to approach the Minister of Municipal Affairs to overturn the decision, which he says violates municipal law, and force a byelection.
Under the Municipal Act, it states that appointments must be done in a “transparent and accountable manner.”
“It is absolutely a travesty that any elected body can be replaced through a backroom meeting in the mayor’s office. It is simply irresponsible,” he charges. “That does not meet in any way shape or form the criteria set in the Municipal Act.”
According to a Wednesday news release from the city, both Sanders and Bates will be sworn into their new positions on Thursday, March 23 at 10 a.m. in council chambers.