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New policy in place for filling council vacancies

Following the appointments of Councillors Doug Sanders, left, and Gail Bates, centre, the City of Oshawa has created and adopted a new policy for filling future vacancies on council.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

A new two-phase approach for dealing with future vacancies on council has been approved, and while laying out certain actions to be taken by the city clerk, essentially leaves the decision for council to make, regardless of when the vacancy occurs during the council term.

The issue came into the spotlight earlier this year following the sudden passing of Councillor Nancy Diamond in February.

Council opted to appoint Councillor Doug Sanders to fill Diamond’s regional council role, while bringing in Gail Bates to fill his seat on council. Councillor Bates was the next runner-up on the 2014 city council election ballot.

The decision was one criticized by many members of the public who filled the council chambers to share their disdain at the March meeting.

Nearly 10 delegates appeared before council at the time 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.

Councillors Amy McQuaid-England, John Shields and Rick Kerr voted against the decisions.

Under council’s new process, the vacancy will be filled during two separate meetings of council.

Upon a vacancy occurring, council will set a meeting during which the decision on how to proceed will be decided.

“A staff report will also be prepared containing a summary of any public input received on the method to fill the vacancy, an analysis of options available to fill the vacancy, as well as current legislative and administrative considerations for council’s review. The staff report will be considered at the meeting where council will determine the method used to fill the council vacancy,” the current staff report reads. “At the meeting, council will consider the staff report…and will deal exclusively with how the vacancy will be filled, without making an appointment of any individual.”

This part of the process was highly criticized by citizens who complained that the decision to appoint individuals to fill Diamond’s seat was made on the same night that those individuals were actually appointed.

Following a decision on how the vacancy will be filled, the new policy dictates the clerk will then proceed with the proper measures of either pre-qualifying candidates for appointment, or moving forward with a byelection.

“This policy just helps us put some clarity to the process and hopefully it will never have to be used,” said Mayor John Henry.

He says that the flexibility in the policy allows council to deal with many different situations.

“It still allows the council of the day to do what they need to do to fill a vacancy as long as they follow the overarching rules of the Municipal Act, and that’s key,” he says.

However, not everyone was pleased with council, as one resident came forward to share his disdain with the lack of participation from the public in the council process. It was something resident Jeff Davis blamed on council’s disregard for the public’s opinions.

“You’ve shown time and time again you’re not willing to listen to the citizens of Oshawa, those who elected you to represent their views,” he said. “You should learn how to listen to your residents and start doing what your residents want you to do.”

For Mayor Henry, he disagreed, noting that residents are relatively quiet as a result of their satisfaction with how things are running at city hall.

“We’ve had a number of public meetings lately on different issues and I think part of it is that if the public, it’s out there and they wanted to come in they would. I think for the most part the public is incredibly happy with what they’re seeing in Oshawa and the great news that we’ve been getting,” he says. “I think for the most part, when the public is not happy, we hear about it in our offices. I didn’t get one call related to this issue at all.”