Car­bon­ear’s next mayor will earn the post

The Compass - - OPINION - Terry Roberts

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.

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