Council approves agreement with new senior election official

Thompson city council voted 7-1 in favour of entering into an agreement with Norma Howitt to serve as the city’s senior election official at their May 11 meeting.

Howitt will be tasked with running the byelection to fill the spot left vacant by Coun. Judy Kolada’s death in April.

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Coun. Jeff Fountain was the only one to oppose the resolution, saying it wasn’t because of any particular objection to approving Howitt as the person in charge of running municipal elections and byelections but due to the lack of transparency in the process of her selection.

“The last council meeting it was made clear to me, madam mayor, that there wasn’t a transparent competition that ran just prior to this position being filled,” said Fountain. “I understand that you did answer that there may have been one in the fall. I’d just like administration or yourself to provide clarity with respect to whether or not there was actually a competition held this spring or late winter. I’d like to add, this position may not pay a lot of money but because they oversee elections it’s an extremely important role and I feel that transparency is extremely important given the role is political. I would like  to see a transparent process rather than an appointment for it.”

City manager Anthony McInnis said the position was advertised after the March 2019 byelection but that only one person applied for the position and that person turned out not to be qualified to serve as senior election official

“The senior election official who had gone through the election and byelection, they offered to stay in place but asked us to continue to look for someone as a replacement,” said Mcinnis. “In the light of Coun. Kolada’s unexpected passing, we had discussions with the senior election official that we had and there was discussion about interest from Mrs. Norma Howitt. The senior election official Dave Turpie felt that was a good person to recommend forward which is why administration brought it forward, knowing that council will need an independent senior election official to move through the upcoming byelection.”

“I think we’ve done our due diligence because we did advertise and we have to move,” said deputy mayor Les Ellsworth. “My concern is if we did not support this resolution tonight and went out again and started looking it could cost the city money and we’re delaying an election that should take place. The citizens of Thompson deserve to have that position filled as soon as we can do it.”

The Municipal Act stipulates that in the case of a vacancy on council opening up during the term, a byelection to fill that vacancy must be held as soon as possible unless the vacancy occurs six months or less before the next scheduled general election, or if it occurs less than 12 months before the next general election and the remaining members decide not to hold one, provided they are a majority of the members comprising the council. The next general municipal election is not scheduled until October 2022.

Due to to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, emergency orders by the provincial government have suspended that section of the act until July 31, meaning that a byelection to fill the spot Kolada held cannot be held until August, unless that order is rescinded.

Terms of the agreement with Howitt were not provided but McInnis said it is identical to the agreement the city had with previous senior election official Dave Turpie apart from the name.

In 2019, Turpie received about $7,000 from the city, according to cheque registers. Ten of the cheques were monthly payments of $175 (cheque registers for April were not posted on the city’s website), while in March, the month of the byelection that saw Coun. Andre Proulx elected to fill a spot left vacant when he and Chiew Chong tied for the eighth councillor position during the October 2018 general election, Turpie received payments of $3,116.43 and $2,074.84.

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