Coun. Arjun Singh has stepped into the mayor’s chair, but for how long?
Peter Milobar, now that he’s an MLA-elect, tried to clarify in a letter to City council today May 16, 2017) his intentions with respect to vacating City Hall, but he moved only part way to quitting one job for the other.
Instead of either resigning immediately — and triggering a by-election — or taking a leave until next Jan. 1 — which would avoid a by-election and allow council to carry on with an interim mayor — Milobar took Door Number Three.
He said he will take an extended leave effective June 1 and may or may not continue that leave depending on how things go with council after a few weeks. Deputy corporate officer Cindy Kennedy explained that Milobar is retaining the option of returning at any time or triggering a by-election at any time.
Since it’s highly unlikely he’ll return to active duty as mayor, it leaves the possibility of quitting and forcing a by-election any time before the end of 2017. Or, leaving his leave in place until then.
Throwing even more uncertainty into the situation was the surprise announcement by Coun. Marg Spina — attending her first council meeting in several months — that her cancer is incurable and she will officially resign at the end of June.
“It’s time for me to support the city, support the public and be finished at the end of June,” she said.
Coun. Pat Wallace, sitting as Deputy Mayor for the first part of the meeting, said she’ll be gone for two weeks in June as well due to surgery for breathing problems caused by a fall last winter.
Coun. Ken Christian, who has said he wants to be the next mayor, spoke in favour of having a by-election, saying council won’t function as well with smaller numbers.
“It doesn’t serve the democratic principles very well to operate short staffed,” he said. “We owe it to the public to have a full slate of people here.”
He agreed that $125,000 or $150,000 is a lot of money to spend on a by-election, but it’s equivalent to the City buying three fewer pickup trucks for its fleet.
“As you look at the principles of the democratic process we’re saying, hey, we’re going to limp along and I don’t think that’s necessarily in the best interests of the public.”
Her fellow councillors praised Spina for her work and her courage, and several asked her to carry on if she finds it possible. Depending on when she resigns, a by-election could be necessary regardless of what happens with the mayor’s position.
Coun. Denis Walsh was perplexed by Milobar’s handing of the situation. “Is this a six-week audition?” he asked in reference to Milobar’s indefinite leave and the appointment of his replacement in the chair. “It just seems very unorthodox.”
Nevertheless, councillors voted unanimously to appoint Singh as “permanent” deputy mayor until there’s a by-election or a general election, whichever comes first. Other councillors will continue rotating monthly as deputy-deputy mayors.
Spina said she will “think about things” but she feels council will have trouble doing the job with fewer numbers. “We are at a crossroads in this city… We need a vision for the future and we need passionate people to drive it forward.”
She said she could wait a few months but being a councilor is becoming a full-time job as the workload increases and not everyone has that much time.
Council then took a short break and resumed the meeting with Singh in the mayor’s chair. Singh will receive the same salary as Milobar received as mayor.