Byelections could cost Carbonear taxpayers $20,000

Melissa Jenkins
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Date set for voters to head back to the polls; two byelections possible

It looks like Carbonear residents could head to the polls twice more in the next several months for both a byelection to vote for a new mayor and a second to possibly replace a councillor.

Carbonear's returning officer Cathy Somers (left) seen here getting a nomination signature for Coun. David Kannedy in the 2013 general election.

It looks like Carbonear residents could head to the polls twice more in the next several months for both a byelection to vote for a new mayor and a second to possibly replace a councillor.

This comes after residents cast ballots in a municipal general election Sept. 24 and provincial byelection Nov. 26, which saw then mayor Sam Slade run for and win the MHA seat for Carbonear-Harbour Grace. He resigned his seat on council Nov. 2.

During the town council meeting Dec. 16, discussion about motions from the last meeting two weeks prior dominated conversation for more than one-quarter of the meeting.

Several council members admitted feeling misguided over a vote approving a byelection be held within 90 days, as required in the Municipalities Act (the Act).

The confusion was created when some councillors misunderstood protocol if another councillor were to run for the mayor’s post.


A separate election

The Act says a councillor must resign their seat if they decide to run for mayor. But it was only clarified how the town would elect a replacement councillor during the most recent meeting, when town clerk Cathy Somers explained.

It was assumed a byelection for a replacement councillor — if necessary — could take place during the mayor’s byelection at a cost of $7,500 to $10,000. Somers said that was very unlikely.

“We don’t currently have a vacancy for councillor,” she explained. “We have a vacancy for the position of mayor. If we are having a separate election for mayor — which was decided in the last meeting — we would have to advertise for the nomination of position of mayor. If no existing councillor resigns, there would be no councillor byelection.

“If one of the existing councillors decides to run, they must resign before they are nominated. Whether that be one, two or six of you resign to run for mayor, we would have to advertise a byelection for councillor. But they cannot be done together unless the resignation comes in well in advance in order to advertise (nominations) together.”

Councillors who resign can run for council again if they lose the nod for mayor.


Not enough time

The nomination date for mayor has been confirmed for Wednesday, Jan. 22, advanced polls will be conducted on Saturday, Feb. 15 and the byelection date is set for Feb. 18.

A nomination date must be set between 21 and 28 days before an election, and advertising for nominations must be done 10 days in advance, as per the Act. The municipality also only has 90 days to fill a vacancy for council.

With such tight deadlines, Somers confirmed to The Compass after the meeting that it would not be possible to have the byelections concurrently with the chosen nomination date unless a councillor resigned prior to filing the byelection paperwork with Municipal Affairs.

Coun. Ed Goff mentioned he would like to see one election to save taxpayers money.

Coun. Frank Butt also expressed concern to The Compass after the meeting about the change in cost to conduct a second byelection.

“This now may cost the taxpayers two byelections at the cost of $7,500 each,” he said.

The cost of two byelections is estimated to be between $15,000 and $20,000.

Somers told The Compass later a request was made to the department to have the byelections together, but it was denied.

Messages left for the Department of Municipal Affairs were not returned in time for deadline.


Won't rescind motion

Meanwhile, during the adoption of the regular minutes from the previous meeting, Coun. Bill Bowman was quick to interject with what he believed to be a flaw with two motions made on how a new mayor would be decided. One motion was for the deputy mayor, George Butt Jr., to be named mayor, which was defeated by a vote of 3-2, while the other was for a mayoral byelection to take place. It earned a unanimous 5-0 vote.

Since George Butt Jr. has stated publicly he will seek the seat of mayor, it was believed he was in conflict of interest.

Bowman requested clarification on whether or not the vote should be null and void since Butt did not vote.

At the previous meeting, it was unknown if he was in conflict or not, so to “err on the side of caution,” he excused himself. It was believed remuneration given to the mayor is higher than the deputy mayor, so Butt could have voted for personal gain.

Somers confirmed remuneration was not grounds for conflict of interest, as is noted in the Act under interpretation, section two.

“In this Act, 'monetary interest' means an interest or benefit affecting or potentially affecting a person's financial position or worth, his or her assets or asset value, but does not include remuneration or a benefit to which a councillor is entitled under this Act.”

Somers did speak with Municipal Affairs last week on the situation.

“They indicated if council wanted to revisit the situation, that was their choice, but from their point-of-view they weren’t going to pursue it any further,” she said.

Bowman added he was “just trying to be fair to Deputy Mayor Butt,” and allow him to vote.

Goff, Coun. David Kennedy and Coun. Ray Noel, who voted against the motion last week for Butt to assume the mayor's chair for the remainder of the term, would not revisit the issue, leading to finalization of the passed motion that a byelection for mayor will proceed.

Organizations: The Compass, Department of Municipal Affairs

Geographic location: Carbonear

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Recent comments

  • Right decision
    December 20, 2013 - 07:58

    I agree with the motion to have a separate mayoral election. George Butt is a good councillor and would make a fine mayor I'm sure, but the people of the town didn't elected him. To serve almost a full term as mayor when not elected as such wouldn't be fair to the town and the spirit of democracy. Just my two cents..

    • Anon.
      December 20, 2013 - 21:48

      You are entitled to your opinion, however I'm around town A LOT. All the word around is that he should have been moved up. I have not heard one person say otherwise. Accept for Goff, Noel and Kennedy of course. They are to thank. I've heard the general opinion is that neither of them have any worries about getting in again. But that is just what I hear. I believe the people already spoke. You say Mr. Butt was not elected as mayor, only Councillor. True enough, however he did get more votes than the mayor and I think that speaks for itself. The people have already spoken. This is costing the town and taxpayers and it's unnecessary. Keep your ears open around town and you will soon find out not many share your opinion. But there are always a few bad apples that try to spoil the bunch.

    • Anon.
      December 29, 2013 - 16:57

      I wonder who wrote this comment. I would say 1 of 4 people, each starting with either an R, D, E or C!

  • South Sider
    December 19, 2013 - 19:39

    All this expense on the town could have been avoided, if it weren't for the other 3 floogies. Mr. Butt had more votes than Sam in the election, he will do just as good the second time around. A waste of time and money. Should have been moved up.

  • resident
    December 19, 2013 - 10:47

    I guess we have to thank a certain few who have chosen to go this route, we could have just let Mr. Butt take over the position instead of this unneeded expense.