An over­due, po­ten­tially costly res­ig­na­tion

The Compass - - OPINION -

Based on ev­ery­thing we knew up to Fri­day, Jan. 17, the day this ed­i­to­rial was writ­ten, tax­pay­ers in Car­bon­ear can very likely ex­pect to take part in two mu­nic­i­pal by­elec­tions in the com­ing weeks. The sad part is, only one is nec­es­sary. The first, sched­uled for Feb. 18, is to fill the mayor’s post, which was va­cated last fall fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of Sam Slade, who was elected MHA for the dis­trict of Car­bon­ear-Har­bour Grace.

Nom­i­na­tion day is Jan. 22, and long­time coun­cil­lor Ge­orge Butt, who has served as act­ing mayor since Slade’s de­par­ture, has stated he plans to seek the mayor’s post. Butt has said he will ten­der his res­ig­na­tion fol­low­ing a coun­cil meet­ing on Jan. 20. For­mer deputy mayor Ches Ash has also an­nounced his can­di­dacy.

Af­ter the dust set­tles on that elec­tion, it’s likely a sec­ond will be nec­es­sary to fill the seat va­cated by Butt in or­der to chal­lenge for the mayor’s chair. That’s right. Two costly by­elec­tions. If you think this is rather bizarre and un­nec­es­sary, you are right. Could this sce­nario have been avoided? Ab­so­lutely. How? Ge­orge Butt should have re­signed weeks ago. It’s a big state­ment to make, and Butt and his le­gion of sup­port­ers won’t like to hear it, but it’s a fact.

Here’s why. There are rules when it comes to pub­li­ciz­ing an up­com­ing nom­i­na­tion day and by­elec­tion, and the town had to make some big de­ci­sions in early Jan­uary in or­der to get the word out. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties also have a 90-day win­dow in which to hold a by­elec­tion af­ter a coun­cil seat is va­cated.

If Butt — a long­time mu­nic­i­pal leader who pre­vi­ously served as mayor — truly had the best in­ter­ests of the town at heart, he would have done the re­spon­si­ble thing at that time and gra­ciously stepped down from coun­cil , and launched an ag­gres­sive cam­paign to win the mayor’s chair on his own mer­its.

This would have al­lowed town of­fi­cials time to make another call for nom­i­na­tions at the ear­li­est pos­si­ble time, and there­fore per­mit both va­can­cies — the mayor’s post and Butt ’ s coun­cil seat — to be filled dur­ing one by­elec­tion.

It would have saved the town thou­sands of dol­lars — nearly $7,000, in fact — and avoided ask­ing an al­ready tired elec­torate, hav­ing par­tic­i­pated in a mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion and pro­vin­cial by­elec­tion late last year, from once again hav­ing to head to the polls.

In­stead, Butt held onto his seat to the last hour, ar­gu­ing he sim­ply should have been ap­pointed mayor for the re­main­der of the four-year term, which doesn’t ex­pire un­til the fall of 2017. Re­mem­ber that Car­bon­ear elects its mayor on a sep­a­rate bal­lot.

It should also be noted that there’s money at stake. In Car­bon­ear, the mayor is en­ti­tled to a max­i­mum quar­terly re­mu­ner­a­tion pay­ment of $3,412.50, to be paid be­fore March 31. How­ever, this is pro-rated, based on at­ten­dance at reg­u­lar pub­lic coun­cil meet­ings, and only if the coun­cil mem­ber at­tends “more than half ” of the meet­ings.

If elected as mayor next month, Butt will be a po­si­tion to at­tend four the six meet­ings sched­uled for this quar­ter.

When asked if re­mu­ner­a­tion was a fac­tor in his de­layed res­ig­na­tion, Butt an­swered: “bull­shit.”

So here we are, fac­ing what any as­tute po­lit­i­cal ob­server would only de­scribe as an em­bar­rass­ing, waste­ful ex­er­cise.

It’s a sim­i­lar cir­cum­stance to one faced by the City of St. John’s in late 2005, when then mayor Andy Wells was be­ing con­sid­ered for the top job at the off­shore petroleum board. Wells never did get the job, but there was rau­cous de­bate at the time about how to avoid mul­ti­ple by­elec­tions if Wells re­signed.

In the end, then city man­ager Ron Pen­ney — one of the finest mu­nic­i­pal ad­min­is­tra­tors in this prov­ince’s his­tory — put it back in the lap of sit­ting coun­cil­lors with this sim­ple state­ment: “I would ex­pect that from a prac­ti­cal point of view, a coun­cil­lor would make his or her de­ci­sion well in ad­vance of the nom­i­nat­ing pe­riod so we could have the ad­di­tional by­elec­tion at the same time.” The same the­ory ap­plied in this case. Butt’s res­ig­na­tion is sev­eral weeks too late, and it’s very likely go­ing to re­sult in a sec­ond by­elec­tion for the town.

That’s a shame.

If Butt — a long­time mu­nic­i­pal leader who pre­vi­ously served as mayor — truly had the best in­ter­ests of the town at heart, he would have done the re­spon­si­ble thing at

that time and gra­ciously stepped down from coun­cil,

and launched an ag­gres­sive cam­paign to win the mayor’s chair on his own

mer­its.

— Terry Roberts

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