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Some call system to fill city council vacancy anti-democratic – Brantford Expositor

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The third-place finisher in the 2018 election for a Ward 1 seat on city council is calling the system by which the vacated position will be filled undemocratic.
Michael Sullivan was reacting Wednesday to council’s decision Tuesday night to seek applications from members of the public for the seat that became open with Rick Weaver’s resignation Oct. 16 for health reasons.
“In my eyes, democracy did not prevail there yesterday.”
How to fill the vacancy left by Weaver, who was elected to represent Ward 1 in 2014 and re-elected in 2018, was the subject of a heated debate, during which some councillors said they felt insulted by colleagues and demanded retractions and apologies from each other.
In a report to council, city clerk Tanya Daniels noted the ways in which the councillor position could be filled: through a byelection; an appointment either of a former member of council, the next candidate for the position of Ward 1, another council candidate from the 2018 municipal election, or another eligible elector selected by council.
Council was to consider a recommendation from Daniels to get a report from city staff in November with additional information on ways to fill the vacancy.
Instead, an amendment to the recommendation was introduced by Coun. Dan McCreary calling for members of the public to submit applications for the job. If they meet the requirements, candidates will give a five-minute speech to council at a special meeting on Dec. 11. The winner will be chosen by councillors in a “blind vote,”  meaning the names of the councillors won’t be displayed.
The system was approved in a 7-3 vote.
Sullivan, who received 966 votes for the Ward 1 seat (behind Weaver with 2,054 and Coun. Jan Vanderstelt with1,874), said he submitted a letter to the city clerk on Sunday expressing his desire to fill the vacancy.
“They waited until 55 minutes before the (Tuesday’s) meeting to introduce this amendment,” said Sullivan. “There was no opportunity to think about it or absorb it.”
Councillors Richard Carpenter and Cheryl Antoski agreed. Carpenter said he was approached a week ago, before he knew Weaver would be stepping down, by someone asking if he would support their appointment to the Ward 1 seat.
“Of course, I said no,” said Carpenter. “My position would be to appoint the runner-up person who actually ran for office. I’m concerned about the blind vote. How can we be transparent if we’ve got a blind vote? I’m concerned this process may be designed to pick someone you might favour.”
Antoski said selecting a Ward 1 replacement through a blind vote is the “route that lacks the most democracy.”
“The next person in line was voted for by the public, who campaigned for months, who sat through debates, as opposed to listening to how ever many applicants there are for five minutes and council makes the decision – not the public. I really struggle with this from a democratic perspective.”
But McCreary said the process avoids an expensive byelection – at an estimated cost of $150,000 – and fills the vacancy as quickly as possible. In the past, he said, council has filled vacant seats both through this process, and by appointing the third-place finisher.
“We have done it in a number of ways throughout the living history of this council,” said McCreary. “We’re not breaking with tradition. We’re doing what’s available for us to do in a timely fashion.”
Coun. Greg Martin said it’s important to quickly get the best candidate.
“Ideally, it would be someone who has some previous council experience because, with a year left in the term, there’s not much of a chance to learn and figure out what happens here. Ideally, it would be someone who doesn’t plan on running again.”
Coun. John Sless agreed with the need for a “short-term person” to take on the job.
“If someone came third, it was for a reason,” he said. “They (voters) wanted other people to represent them. Looking for someone with experience who has no interest in running in the future opens it up to everybody and gives no one an unfair advantage going into the next election. The electors will decide who will become a permanent replacement.”
The next municipal election will be held Oct. 24, 2022.
Vanderstelt said the application process “opens the door wide” to anyone interested in serving.
“Issues have changed, times have changed, election issues have changed, everything has changed since the 2018 election,” he said. “This is not anti-democratic. It’s a new approach.”
Martin said council isn’t operating in a democracy but in a representative democracy in which voters “elected us to represent them.”
“People have their say through us. If constituents want me to support a particular individual coming forward they can call me and let me know and I’ll take that into consideration in my decision.”
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