Vacant seat continues to haunt split council

·5 min read

West Nipissing Mayor Joanne Savage was blocked last week from volunteering to join the public library board because council still hasn’t agreed on how to fill the vacant Ward 7 seat in Verner.

Councillors Chris Fisher, Leo Mallete, Dan Roveda and Rolly Larabie voted as a bloc against Savage, highlighting the six-month stalemate over the issue.

“In effect, we’re saying the boards are more important, Verner is not getting a councillor,” Fisher said after the motion was tabled. “I’d rather see the board seat be left open until the vacancy is filled in Verner.”

The seat has been left empty since Jeremy Seguin resigned in late July and the Municipal Act’s 60-day deadline to either appoint a replacement or call a by-election came and went September 18.

See: Seguin resigns from 'toxic and dysfunctional' council

See: Council split on replacing vacant seat

Fisher and the three other councillors want to appoint the first runner-up in the 2018 election, Normand Roberge, a former councillor who continues to serve on municipal committees.

Savage and Yvon Duhaime, Lise Senecal and Denis Senecal have held firm they want to hold a by-election. Each group claims their method is the most democratic of the choices while those supporting an appointment say it spares expense and maintains safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Savage pitched her desire to join the library board by explaining she has yet to work with the library and noted there’s no honorarium involved. While the mayor already has an ex-officio place on the board, she said it’s not a voting position.

“In fairness, it’s not even an honourariam, this is volunteer-based,” she said, adding the opportunity to serve on the library board interests her and the terms of reference for the board requires at least one elected municipal official.

Savage also said she would agree to step down from the board if the person who ends up filling the Ward 7 seat wants the position.

After the tie 4-4 vote, Savage sarcastically said “thank you for the vote of faith and confidence.”

Next on the agenda was Lise Senecal expressing interest in joining the environmental services board. Savage explained that the primary duty of the board is to look after the municipal landfill. She said Coun. Rolly Larabie, who represents the outlying area, fills one of the two seats for elected officials and said it would be nice for an urban official represented Sturgeon Falls, the majority user of the landfill.

But Senecal was upset with the situation, noting during discussion that the seat would be filled if councillors agreed to have a by-election.

In support of Savage, Senecal then withdrew her name for consideration for the environmental services board.

“If you’re not good enough as the mayor to sit on the library, I don’t think I’m good enough to sit anywhere else,” she said. “And I’m pretty sure they are not that hypocritical to vote for me, so I retract my (name) because I want to support you on that.”

Unfortunately for West Nipissing, the 60-day Municipal Act deadline is a toothless rule with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs stating it doesn’t intervene on such matters.

See: Municipal affairs urged to intervene in West Nipissing

Most municipalities follow the provincial guidelines and five area council’s managed to make such decisions after losing members in 2020.

East Ferris, Mattawa, Chisholm, North Bay and Callander all decided to either pick the first runner-up in the 2018 election or appoint from a list of eligible candidates. In each case, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated costs were cited as a reason not to call a by-election.

Callander replaced two members last year after long-time mayor Hec Lavigne passed away on January 6 and veteran councillor Maurice Turgeon died March 3. Robb Noon, who had been serving as deputy mayor, was appointed to the mayor’s office two weeks after Turgeon passed away. Council opted to seek applications for appointments to fill the two vacant seats. Of the 18 applications, they short-listed nine and chose Irene Smit and Daryl Vaillancourt to serve the remainder of the term.

See: New Callander mayor officially sworn in

See: Two new councillors appointed in Callander

North Bay turned to first-runner up George Maroosis to fill the seat left vacant when long-time councillor Mike Anthony passed away in early September.

See: Maroosis ready to 'roll up the sleeves'

Chisholm also turned to the appointment process to replace Leo Jobin when the popular mayor resigned in November due to health concerns. Councillors Bernadette Kerr and James Gauthier chose between fellow councillors Gail Degagne and Nunzio Scarfone to take Jobin’s place with Degagne appointed to the top position.

See: Gail Degagne next mayor of Chisholm

And this week, both Mattawa and East Ferris confirmed first runner-ups to fill vacant seats.

See: Robbie Jones celebrating birthday as new Mattawa councillor

See: Termnally ill deputy mayor's wish granted

Mattawa chose Robbie Jones after deputy mayor Corey Lacelle resigned in late November for personal reasons. East Ferris turned to veteran councillor Rick Champagne after deputy mayor Michel Voyer passed away on Christmas Eve.

Dave Dale is a Local Journalism Reporter with BayToday.ca. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Dale, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca