By Catherine O’Hara • REVIEW STAFF
Following the resignation of its Ward 6 trustee, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board voted to appoint a replacement at its April committee of the whole meeting, despite opposition from three trustees who spoke in favour of holding a by-election.
Reverend Kyran Kennedy, who served the ratepayers as Catholic trustee for the Hamilton Mountain ward for nearly 45 years, cited personal health issues as the reason for his resignation.
At Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting, the board was tasked with deciding how it would fill the vacancy.
In accordance with the Education Act, members of the board have two options: they can appoint a person or chose to hold a by-election. The latter could cost the board between $60,000 and $100,000 – an expense the board “does not have a contingency fund for,” read the report presented to trustees on March 6.
Over the course of the last 30 years, there have been at least five trustee vacancies, which have all been filled through board appointment, noted chairperson Pat Daly.
The process, he explained, would see the board welcome applications from “interested, qualified” individuals. They would then be invited to speak before the board. Trustees would vote, by secret ballot, for the candidate they believe should fill the remainder of Rev. Kennedy’s term.
This practice, noted Ralph Agostino, trustee for wards 3-4, has served the board well in the past. “It worked well and it worked well with the public. There was no backlash from the public,” he said.
But Ward 8 trustee John Valvasori questioned the practice and its origin. “I’m glad to hear that we do have a process, I am not sure where that process comes from. There are no bylaws indicating that process,” he said. “Someone, somewhere has made that decision but I think that definitely needs to be revisited.”
His motion to strike an ad hoc committee to consider all aspects of the process for filling a trustee vacancy and make a recommendation to the board was defeated at Tuesday’s meeting.
While the costs associated with holding an optional election would be significant, low voter turnout was also cited as a factor against the by-election option in the report, which noted that between 10 and 15 per cent of the electorate cast its ballot during a trustee by-election. Most recently, the Toronto District School Board saw an 11 per cent turnout during its by-election.
“Even if 15 per cent of those did turn out, that’s 1,000 ratepayers that I don’t think we should disregard for the sake of the cost that is cited here,” said Valvasori.
Valvasori’s brother Mark, trustee for wards 1 and 2, was also in support of holding a by-election, although “it pains me that the board would have to incur the cost of a by-election, especially given the economic climate of today,” he said.
Noting that trustees are only a few months into the second year of their four-year term, Mark Valvasori said, “I think that democracy should prevail despite the cost.”
“The voters of Ward 6 probably deserve an opportunity to have their say,” he added.
Citing transparency, trustee Paul DiFrancesco also wanted to see voters of Ward 6 choose their trustee.
But Agostino believes the constituency isn’t ready for another election. “I think, right now, the public is tired of having another election.”
In a recorded vote, Daly, Agostino, Carolyn Cornale, Sam Agostino and Mary Nardini voted in favour of the report’s recommendation.
A new trustee will be appointed at the board’s April 10 committee of the whole meeting.