Election fever still registering in Carbonear
Residents will soon head back to the polls to elect a new mayor
For the third time in a short span, residents of Carbonear will again be heading back to the polls in the coming weeks to exercise their democratic right.
This time, they will be selecting a new mayor to replace Sam Slade, who won a byelection Nov. 26 to become the new Liberal MHA for Carbonear-Harbour Grace.
Council voted unanimously on Dec. 2 to hold a byelection to fill the mayor’s post, but not before some disagreement about how the process should unfold.
According to the Municipalities Act, the town had three options when it came to filling the vacancy. One of those options included tapping acting mayor and veteran municipal leader George Butt Jr. to take on the top post for the remainder of the term, which ends in the fall of 2017.
Butt topped the polls in the Sept. 24 municipal election, garnering 1,544 votes in a field of 11 other candidates hoping to fill six council seats.
Slade also won a convincing win in the separate ballot for mayor, defeating former deputy mayor Ches Ash.
Butt was named deputy mayor at the first meeting of the new council on Oct. 7.
However, the political landscape was rattled just days after the municipal election when Jerome Kennedy, who had served as the Progressive Conservative MHA for Carbonear-Harbour Grace since 2007, announced his sudden resignation.
This triggered a provincial byelection, and Slade took a leave of absence in order to campaign for a seat in the House of Assembly. Butt became acting mayor, and made no secret of the fact he would welcome taking on the job on a full-time basis if it became available.
That’s exactly what happened, with Slade winning the byelection by a margin of some 450 votes. It was Slade’s second election victory in two months. He promptly resigned from council on Dec. 2, and is expected to be sworn in as the area’s new MHA this week.
But instead of elevating Butt into the mayor’s chair, a majority of councillors had a different idea, with councillors Ed Goff, Ray Noel and David Kennedy leading the charge to hold a new election for mayor.
The issue played out during the Dec. 2 council meeting, with councillors Bill Bowman and Frank Butt arguing that a separate vote for mayor was unnecessary. They contended that George Butt Jr. should be named mayor, and that a byelection be held to fill his seat on council.
George Butt was not permitted to take part in any discussion on the matter, since he had already stated publicly that he would seeking the mayor’s chair.
Coun. Noel began the discussion, saying he believed the citizens of the town should elect a mayor, since the town will already be heading to the polls.
“The town will be having a byelection regardless ( for a councillor or mayor), so it’s not going to cost any additional money,” he said.
A byelection in Carbonear costs some $10,000.
Coun. Frank Butt countered, saying he would like the deputy mayor to step in.
“I think the deputy mayor position is a prelude to mayor if anything happens,” he explained.
Coun. Butt said he has come across many people who have been apathetic to what the council does to choose the mayor, and noted only one person has said they would like a new election for mayor.
Coun. Bowman agreed, saying he has heard both sides from constituents, but saw nothing wrong with allowing the deputy mayor the opportunity to step in, and alluded to the acting mayor’s overwhelming support in the municipal election.
But Kennedy and Goff said the fact that council was so early into a four-year term convinced them of the need for a new election for mayor.
Goff explained that the deputy mayor is a “very popular fella,” but people he had spoken to said they would like to see a separate mayor’s vote.
A motion that George Butt Jr. be named mayor for the remainder of the term — put forward by Coun. Frank Butt — was defeated following a tie vote of 2-2. Coun. Noel did not vote, since he was chairing the meeting at the time of the motion.
A second motion that a separate election be held for mayor was passed by a unanimous vote.
When nominations are called, those seeking the position of mayor who are currently on council will have to resign their seat. This will also trigger another call for nominations to fill any new vacancies.
A date has not been set for the byelection, but town administrator Cynthia Davis confirmed the town has three months before it has to call one.
A contested race
Regardless of the date, hype is already starting to build about who will be the next mayor.
George Butt Jr. has confirmed he will be a candidate, and former deputy mayor Ches Ash also confirmed last week that he will be on the ballot.
As for who will be the next deputy mayor, Coun. Frank Butt told The Compass he would accept the job. He received the second highest number of votes in the election, and said he hopes to one day serve as mayor.