Mayor John Higham had to cast a tie-breaking vote last night in the annual election for Sackville’s deputy mayor.
“This is a very difficult situation to be in,” Higham said after four councillors cast secret ballots for Bill Evans while the other four voted for Ron Aiken.
Higham said he had checked the rules to see if he could “just flip a coin or something, but apparently that’s not allowed.”
After a suspenseful 12-second pause, Higham said, “I really have little to differentiate quite frankly and I will cast a vote in favour of Councillor Aiken.”
O’Neil bows out
Joyce O’Neil, who has served as the town’s deputy mayor for the last five years, had decided not to stand for re-election opening the way for last night’s contest.
“It’s been a journey and a half,” O’Neil told council. “Anyway, it’s time to take it a little easier.”
She received a round of applause from her council colleagues and thanks for her “time, effort and dedication,” from the mayor.
Higham pointed out that the job can be hectic with the deputy mayor being called on, sometimes at the last minute, to represent the town at events the mayor is unable to attend.
The deputy mayor also serves as an alternate member on the board of the Southeast Regional Service Commission which co-ordinates land-use planning as well as the collection and disposal of solid waste.
The deputy mayor’s position comes with yearly pay of $8,179, an increase of $921 over a councillor’s annual stipend of $7,258. (The mayor receives an annual stipend of $13,817.)
Council’s political divisions
Last night’s tie vote for Aiken and Evans illustrates political divisions on town council between long-time councillors and the newer ones, especially when it comes to contentious issues.
For example, first-term councillors Andrew Black, Allison Butcher and Megan Mitton voted with second-term councillor Bill Evans to approve the town’s five-year strategic plan last February while council veterans Ron Aiken, Joyce O’Neil, Bruce Phinney and Michael Tower voted against. In that case, Mayor Higham sided with the newer councillors breaking the tie in favour of adopting the strategic plan.
In May, the same division was evident when council voted on a bylaw allowing the town’s chief administrative officer to designate a successor during a temporary absence. Councillors Phinney, O’Neil and Aiken voted against while Councillors Black, Evans and Butcher voted in favour. (Councillors Tower and Mitton were away that night.) Once again, Mayor Higham broke the tie by voting with the newer councillors.
In February when council voted on a symbolic resolution opposing the Energy East pipeline, Councillors Evans, Black, Butcher and Mitton voted in favour while Councillors Aiken, O’Neil and Tower voted against. On that occasion, Councillor Phinney prevented a tie by voting with the newer councillors to oppose the pipeline.
Although last night’s vote for deputy mayor was by secret ballot, it seems likely that the newer councillors voted for Bill Evans, while the veterans supported Ron Aiken.
I think your analysis of the voting trend is right on the money. I (and others) have also noticed this same trending. The division between seasoned and inexperienced councilors is often very noticeable, which can be a positive trend in that we do have a wider variety of perspectives at play, rather than all following the same pre-set game-plan.
One has to wonder though, when it comes to the mayor being called upon to cast a tie-breaking vote, whether the votes of the more seasoned councilors perhaps should carry a little more ‘weight’ than those of the newcomers – they are, after all, the ones with greater experience behind their vote-casting decisions. Of course this would not apply to a secret ballot, but most votes at town council meetings are by show-of-hands.
Kudos to you Bruce for linking these various instances of tie-breaking votes in order to clearly demonstrate this common thread.
Change is challenging and refreshing. New ideas and new approaches are needed if a community is to grow and adapt successfully to a rapidly changing world. Tradition need not be abandoned but rather it should provide a foundation stone for change. It’s not surprising that the newly-elected councillors often take a different perspective on issues from the longer term councillors. That is a good thing. That’s why they were elected. Our town council has a healthy composition of individuals; each brings their own unique life experience and wisdom. And Sackville benefits!