Yellowknife’s mayor and council are seeking to expand their options should they lose one or two councillors after the territorial election on October 1.
Currently, the city’s council procedures bylaw requires a by-election be held if a municipal seat becomes empty in the first three years of a four-year term.
This would trigger an election if either Rommel Silverio, running in Kam Lake, or Niels Konge, who is seeking a seat in Yellowknife Centre, are successful in their territorial campaigns.
A by-election would cost between $15,000 and $20,000 to run, city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett said on Monday.
However, territorial legislation gives municipal councils other choices if a seat is vacated. Councils can either appoint someone or leave the seat, or seats, vacant.
Staff at City Hall are recommending council amend the bylaw to allow any of the three options – a by-election, an appointment, or a vacancy – should seats be vacated by Konge or Silverio, or if this becomes an issue again in future.
That proposal received broad support at a Monday meeting of councillors, though some expressed reservations about the ability to appoint anyone who is legally allowed to run for council.
Councillor Konge called the appointment option “a little concerning, to say the least.”
Councillor Cynthia Mufandaedza said she wants to know more about who is eligible to be appointed, and how the process might work.
Elect, appoint, or ignore?
One option is to appoint whoever finished next in line at the last municipal election if seats are vacated.
Chris Gillander finished ninth, 59 votes behind Silverio (1,968 votes to 2,027) in last fall’s Yellowknife election. Edwin Castillo, with 1,954 votes, was 10th.
Councillor Stacie Smith expressed concern at the thought of appointing a new councillor without the community having had a say.
“I don’t think it’s accountable … to elect someone to this position without the community having had their input,” she said, “because we are representatives of the community essentially.”
Smith wants to see any bylaw amendment carefully spell out the parameters under which an appointment may take place.
However, being too detailed about the appointment process could “tie council’s hands” in future, Councillor Shauna Morgan warned.
Morgan gave a scenario where the bylaw says the ninth-place finisher must be appointed but only eight people originally ran for office – or the ninth-place finisher is no longer in a position to take up a seat.
“There are just so many different scenarios that I think could get us into trouble,” she said. “Practically speaking, the bylaw should allow for enough discretion. And certainly, the discussions should happen in public and the council of the day should weigh things very seriously.”
‘Will voters come out?’
Mayor Rebecca Alty said there was a need to balance how prescriptive, or flexible, any amended bylaw should be. She expected a rigorous council debate to precede any future appointment.
Earlier on Monday, Alty had told Cabin Radio a by-election was her “least-favourite option” as it incurred additional costs.
“Will we get enough candidates to come out after a territorial and a federal election? Will voters come out to vote for potentially one or two positions?” Alty asked.
“An appointment would be… you know, voters spoke last year.”
Bassi-Kellett argued for keeping the bylaw wording broad, allowing any council a level of “discretion and flexibility.”
She used Hay River as an example. When the town last had a vacant seat, councillors voted in favour of leaving the seat empty until the next general election. That vote was not without its detractors – four Hay River councillors voted in favour and three were opposed.
Joe Melanson, the councillor who vacated his seat, was initially elected to Hay River’s council after a tie between Melanson and Sandra Leslie was broken by pulling a name from a hat.
Leslie told the Hay River Hub she was disappointed in the decision to leave the seat vacant, as it created a situation where four councillors voting en-bloc could control council decisions.
“It’s basically taken the power away from the mayor and handed it over to any four councillors that want to run the show from here on in,” she told reporter Cody Punter. “The mayor isn’t the balance of power any more.”
Yellowknife’s proposed bylaw amendment is expected to be brought to council on September 23, just over a week before polling day decides the fate of Silverio and Konge.
Ollie Williams contributed reporting.