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Voters to decide who fills council vacancy Perry upset over flip-flop

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While Fort Frances town council had passed a resolution Sept. 25 to appoint a candidate to fill the vacancy left by Tannis Drysdale, council changed its mind last Wednesday and instead will be holding a byelection to let the people decide.

But Ken Perry, who finished seventh in the election last November, wasn’t happy to hear about the turnaround of events.

“I’m at a loss for why they’re going to a byelection,” Perry said in an interview last night.

“The three top vote-getters of the losers, let’s say, all said they’d stand to be appointed, and for some reason that hasn’t happened,” he added.

Perry stressed he will run in the byelection, but added it will be unfortunate if he or one of the other runners-up are elected and the town spent $20,000 for nothing.

“Everybody I’ve spoken to has asked me to run,” he noted. “Some people that I realized were on my side before, and some people who came up to me right out of the blue, have said, ‘Why weren’t you appointed? What the heck’s going on?’

“Nobody can understand.

“We’re only 11 months from the election we just had. I don’t know how long they’re going to drag this thing out,” added Perry. “They don’t need to drag it out, I got that from the town administrator.

But if they choose to drag it out, I can probably understand that, too.”

Other unsuccessful candidates from the 2006 election who put their name forward for the appointment process included Allan T. Bedard and Todd Hamilton.

Neither could be reached for comment prior to press time today.

At last Wednesday’s special meeting, council voted to reconsider its previous resolution—and then discussed why it felt a byelection would be their preferred option.

“I still support my original idea of having an election,” said Coun. Paul Ryan, who had spoken in favour of it Sept. 25, but at that time went along with the rest of council during voting.

“I know that in the past they’ve picked the seventh person. But in the past, the circumstances were different,” he added. “And in this case, the circumstances were different than we’ve had before, i.e. length of time.

“This is three years, which is the old mandate for council.”

Coun. Ryan mentioned council picking a seventh person “isn’t a true indication of what the electorate would really want.”

He also added another problem is not every ballot in the last election saw the electorate voting for six candidates—some people voted for fewer than six.

In a separate interview yesterday, Coun. Andrew Hallikas, who also supported a byelection, further explained how this factored into considerations.

“My take on it is the electorate was asked to basically fill six positions, so each person had six votes. Now, what some people will do under circumstances like that, it’s fairly common, is ‘plump’ their ballots.

“Basically, instead of putting down six, they might have one or two candidates that they highly favour and they may only pick less than six to increase the effectiveness of their vote,” he noted.

“So really, based on the results where you get to choose six or less, the only real conclusion that you can draw is that the six candidates who received the most votes were elected to council,” added Coun. Hallikas.

“The electorate wasn’t called to vote, say, for six plus an alternate or six plus two alternates.

“Had, for instance, the electorate been asked to vote for six and an alternate, then they would have all had seven votes, and had they had seven votes, that would have changed, potentially, the entire lineup.

“Because a particular person came seventh, and I’m not alluding to any names, you can’t automatically assume that was the electorate’s seventh choice for council.

“All you can conclude is the first six were their choice because that’s what they voted on,” stressed Coun. Hallikas, noting that if council was “going to take all of the candidates who didn’t get in and ask the electorate to pick one of them, you may not get them picking the person who came seventh.”

Coun. John Albanese said that although he fully supported appointing the next candidate in line at the last meeting, he since had done some serious reflection and decided that with three more years to go and certain issues having been resolved since last November’s election (such as the biomass boiler project becoming a reality, and the town’s loan to the now-established Fort Frances Community Clinic), “it’s like a new term for everybody.”

“Let’s go for a new election and let the people of Fort Frances decide who they really want,” he remarked.

“I feel that council, by consensus and resolution, had already decided this issue,” said Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft, wondering what had changed between Sept. 25 and Oct. 3 so that council had suddenly decided to go with a byelection?

Since Sept. 25, Clerk Glenn Treftlin tried to contact all five unsuccessful candidates from the 2006 election.

Of the five, Perry, Hamilton, and Bedard agreed to put their names forward for appointment, Nick Wihnan did not respond, and Neil Kabel declined the offer.

Coun. Wiedenhoeft pointed out that three candidates have put their names forward for appointment, but by council now deciding to have a byelection, it appears that council’s “not happy with these people.”

“That’s the appearance. I know the perception may not equal the reality, but that’s the perception,” he noted, adding there may be a backlash from the public for calling the byelection.

Coun. Wiedenhoeft also said when all is said and done, the electorate may end up voting for the seventh-place candidate anyway—and the town would have wasted $20,000.

But Coun. Halllikas, who along with Coun. Ryan felt the byelection was always a good idea, countered it “wouldn’t be a waste of $20,000.”

“The voters would have spoken and have indicated to us who they want to see in council,” he remarked. “That’s the truest form of democracy.”

Coun. Hallikas added that by opening up the floor for nominations and having a byelection, more than the three aforementioned unsuccessful candidates—whom he hoped would still let their names stand if a byelection were called—may come forward.

“At the time of the previous election, my perception was that the public felt there was some divisiveness in the previous council and that may have dissuaded some people from putting their names forward,” he noted.

“I feel strongly the people who have submitted their names are legitimate candidates. I don’t want to take anything away from them,” said Coun. Albanese.

“But a byelection would give the people the chance to say ‘We want you.’”

He noted that if the runners-up from the last election are still interested, they can run in the byelection.

Coun. Sharon Tibbs noted that after giving the matter much thought since the Sept. 25 meeting, “the only way to be sure is a byelection.”

Coun. Ryan said the electorate may have changed their minds since last year, and if he were not in a councillor’s shoes, he would want to see a byelection.

“I can’t see a weakness in it,” he noted.

“I can’t see how things have changed since the last time we voted on it,” insisted Coun. Wiedenhoeft.

“This election has been different than others. The term is longer,” said Coun. Hallikas. “I don’t know if you can go by past practice. I think an election is the purest form of democracy.

“I am not comfortable appointing someone with so much time left in the term,” he added. “With so much time left in the term, the electorate should decide.

“I think they should have a say.”

Mayor Roy Avis said he also had been weighing the decision, seeing valid points on both sides. “If council feels we should have an election, that’s what we should have,” he remarked.

“I just want to do what’s best for the community,” the mayor later added.

The next step will be for council to pass a bylaw to call a byelection. This could happen as early as the Oct. 23 council meeting. Council then will have to set a Nomination Day within 60 days of calling the byelection.

Election Day will be 45 days after Nomination Day.

Like the 2006 election, the byelection will use mail-in ballots. Treftlin noted that considering the time of year the election will fall, this means “snowbirds” can vote from wherever they may be.

He added the mail-ballot system also has resulted in an increase in voter turnout of 20-30 percent here in recent municipal elections.

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