An overdue, potentially costly resignation
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
— Terry Roberts