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Not a decision for council to make

For many, it was a slap in the face of the democratic process. Instead of taking their time and allowing the public to comment on their proposed idea, councillors went right ahead and carried a motion to appoint Councillor Doug Sanders to the Region of Durham and bring in city council ballot runner-up Gail Bates – all despite introducing such possibilities just minutes before.

It was called “shocking”, an “ambush,” a “travesty of justice.” Sadly, it was status quo for a council that seems intent on stretching and picking through the threads of the Municipal Act in the search of loopholes.

The controversy the decision generated is well warranted, and quite frankly, something that could have been avoided if councillors had listened to suggestions made years ago.

Following the appointment that put Councillor Sanders at the table in the first place in 2011, residents urged council to create a policy that would definitively lay out what to do should a vacancy occur in the future.

Alas, councillors took a pass, and no such policy was in place when Councillor Nancy Diamond suddenly passed away earlier this year.

Such a policy could have saved this council the worry and the controversy and would have set out the steps for filling Diamond’s empty seat. Now, once again, residents are back at the committee level, reiterating the call they made four years ago.

The meeting was awash with good ideas, and many residents were right in claiming that in future, if a vacancy occurs in the first half of a council term, it should immediately trigger a byelection, and any later than that, the next person on the ballot sheet should be appointed, regardless of who they are.

The province should also be taking a lead role on this. Oshawa is not the first council to find itself in hot water over an appointment decision. Standard rules from the province would even the playing field and prevent the worry of residents when it comes to backroom dealing and closed-door meetings regarding appointments. And there’s no time like the present as Bill 68, a piece of legislation set to rework key pieces of municipal legislation, is about to get reviewed.

A policy would take the mystery out of council appointments, something that happened in 2013 and again this year, and leave little room for public scrutiny.