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Policy options for filling council vacancies in the works 

Following urging of residents, staff set to weigh options for rules on filling future council openings


Councillor Doug Sanders was recently appointed from his previous role as a city councillor to fill the vacancy on regional council left behind by the sudden passing of Nancy Diamond. Now, councillors have looked to staff to investigate the options for creating a policy that would regulate their actions in the future for filling similar vacancies. (Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express)

By Joel Wittnebel/ The Oshawa Express

Some residents have called it an unnecessary controversy, and one that needs to be avoided in the future.

Following the eruption of dissent at council’s regular meeting on March 20 caused by the appointments of Doug Sanders to a regional councillor role and Gail Bates into a city councillor position, residents kept up the pressure at Monday’s corporate services committee meeting.

A total of six delegates came forward urging councillors to do something to prevent this situation from occurring again.

“I think it’s too important of an issue for us to continually ignore,” said Gord Vickers, speaking on behalf of the Municipal Affairs committee with the Unifor Local 222 Retirees. “We want to keep our reputation as a go-ahead city. We don’t want this coming back in the next election.”

As part of his submissions, Vickers suggests that a future policy should require council to hold a byelection if the vacancy occurs within the first two years of a council term, following which an appointment could occur if the vacancy happens in the latter half.

The same idea was supported by resident Greg Milosh, who chastised council for what he sees as the “negligent and irresponsible” handling of the vacancy left behind by the sudden passing of Councillor Nancy Diamond. The main issue, Milosh says, was the fact that council chose not to appoint the next top vote getter to fill the regional council seat, that being former councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri, but instead appointed from within the current council, then chose the next top vote-getter from the city councillor ballot, that being Bates.

“That was the glaring inconsistency,” Milosh said.

Former Councillor Cathy Clarke had much stronger words for the committee, calling the March 20 decision a “travesty of justice.”

Clarke noted that any future policy should be created with the involvement of the province.

“When it comes to you actually developing rules and regulations…the province is pretty much the overseer of municipalities,” she said. “I do believe there should be more detailed things from the province.”

City hall watcher David Conway said the same, noting that council should ready a submission for the provincial committee currently reviewing Bill 68, which could see changes to various acts impacting municipalities, including the much maligned Municipal Act.

Conway also says any future policy should include a caveat for a sober second thought and essentially require councillors to carry out the vacancy and the decision for filling it at two separate meetings. He says residents were caught off guard on March 20.

“I was expecting to see a debate about the recommendations in that report,” he says, speaking of the clerk’s report that came before council for making a decision on filling the vacancy. “There was no debate on that…it came as a complete shock to everybody.”

However, some residents say councillors brought the controversy upon themselves, as former mayoral candidate Rosemary McConkey noted. She made a similar delegation back in 2013, following the appointment of Doug Sanders to council, about creating this same type of policy. Her advice was not heeded at the time. She is now urging councillors to form an “Oshawa Governance” committee made up of staff, members of the public and councillors in order to address municipal governance issues in the future

For any policy to be a success, McConkey said the actions of March 20 must be reviewed.

“The city’s endorsement of any new policy will lack credibility if, in developing a go-forward policy for filling council vacancies, the failure of Mayor Henry and the four councillors to be transparent at the March 20 meeting is not reviewed,” she said, adding that council should request an advisor from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs review the decision.

Residents also took issue with the decision of Sanders to vote on his appointment, something he is legally allowed to do as an exemption under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

“Legally, maybe you can, but as far as I’m concerned, ethically and morally you should not be voting on promoting yourself,” Milosh said.

The exception that allowed Sanders to vote is also something that needs to be addressed, McConkey says, noting that it’s a question of ethics when councillors allow a fellow member to vote on their own promotion when they are “entitled to receive double his current councillor earnings.”

The delegations’ suggestions and the formation of a policy was referred to staff for a future report. No timeline was provided.

“The great thing about our system is it can always be developed and we can always work on it,” says Mayor John Henry.

However, he does not fault the previous council for choosing not to implement a policy four years ago as the circumstances then were quite different from what happened in this case, noting that the 2013 decision occurred at the start of the term when the rightful winner of the election was unable to claim his seat and in this case the situation was brought on by the death of a councillor.

“So there is a set of rules in the act that allow you to do certain things and we were able to follow the act and do that,” he says.

The mayor says he would not be opposed to working with the province on a policy.

“To have some involvement from the Minister of Municipal Affairs or his staff to create a policy that is standard would be something that should be considered,” he says. “It would be easier to administrate one standard process across the province, especially in the Region of Durham where we have eight municipalities.”