Carbonear’s next mayor will earn the post
The Carbonear town council made the right decision last week when it voted to hold a byelection to fill the vacant mayor’s seat.
Why? Because it’s a position that should be earned outright, especially when it becomes available so early in a four-year term.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s how we reached this point.
Like many larger towns, Carbonear municipal elections feature a two-ballot system. One asks voters to select up to six candidates to fill a seat on council, with the top voter-getter usually being offered the job of deputy mayor.
The second ballot asks voters to select a mayor.
On Sept. 24, one ballot featured a dozen candidates, with longtime councillor and onetime mayor, George Butt Jr., earning the most votes. He was later appointed deputy mayor by his fellow councillors on Oct. 2.
Another longtime municipal leader, Sam Slade, was re-elected as mayor, easily holding off a challenge from former deputy mayor Ches Ash.
But with Slade recently resigning from council after winning a byelection to select a new MHA for the district of Carbonear-Harbour Grace, the remaining members of council were faced with a dilemma. What option would they choose to fill the vacancy created by Slade’s departure, just two months into a new term?
That answer became clear during a Dec. 2 meeting. Two members of council — Frank Butt and Bill Bowman — favoured the option of having George Butt Jr. elevated full-time to the position of mayor for the remainder of the term, and holding a byelection to fill an atlarge seat on council.
George Butt Jr. received the most votes during the September election, they argued, and as deputy mayor, it was only natural that he step up the ladder.
Three others — David Kennedy, Ray Noel and Ed Goff — rejected that option, and rightly so.
In the end, a motion to hold a new election for mayor was passed by all councillors. What’s more, any sitting member of council who runs in the upcoming mayoral race — George Butt Jr. has already indicated he will — must resign, thereby creating yet another vacancy.
So it’s a sure bet that early in the new year, Carbonear residents will be asked to head to a polling booth once more, for the third time in recent months, with the task of selecting a new mayor, and at least one new member of council, all for the tidy sum of about $10,000.
So what’s wrong with simply promoting George Butt Jr. to the mayor’s chair for the next four years?
After all, that’s what the Bay Roberts town council did in October 2011 when faced with a similar circumstance.
Then mayor Glenn Littlejohn was elected as MHA for the district of Port de Grave in the provincial general election, and stepped down from council several weeks later. The Bay Roberts council unanimously voted to promote then deputy mayor Philip Wood to the mayor’s chair for the remainder of the term. A byelection that saw Wade Oates elected to council was then held in December 2011.
But the two situations are very different. In Bay Roberts, there was two years left in council’s term; not four.
If this was the situation in Carbonear, and council had been humming along for two years as a cohesive unit, a strong argument could be made for elevating Butt into the mayor’s chair. But that’s not the case. After just 11 weeks in office, this new council is just now beginning to feel comfortable in their chairs.
And filling the position of mayor is not a situation to be taken lightly. Despite the fact the mayor is only one vote, the stature of the position is much more than that. The mayor is the face of council and the town, and must serve as an ambassador and authority figure, and be able to lead with confidence and control during a time of crisis or uncertainty.
This is not a swipe against George Butt Jr. He’s proven to be more than capable during his many years on council, and most recently was largely responsible for helping restore the credibility of the Conception Bay North Joint Council.
But the fact is that Butt’s name was not on the mayoral ballot on Sept. 24.
So despite the fact he received some 1,544 votes, these votes went to a candidate for council; not mayor.
That said, Butt will be a very tough opponent in the upcoming race for mayor, but it's for the voters to decide whether he gets the job.