A Belleville council’s committee recommendation for a replacement councillor was shot down in a surprising vote Wednesday.
Following the death of Ward 1 Coun. Pat Culhane last year, Belleville council has been tasked to fill her seat, the method of which has been a matter of vigorous debate over the last month.
In Belleville, it’s traditional to appoint the next runner-up from the previous election to fill a vacant seat, but the motion to appoint that runner-up, Tyler Allsop, failed last month in a split four-four council vote, as did a motion to strike a committee to select an individual.
Mayor Mitch Panciuk then decided to create an ad hoc committee to appoint a member of the public.
That decision has prompted such an outcry that Coun. Garnet Thompson put forward a notice of motion last week asking that council reconsider its decision to allow Allsop to take the seat, a motion set to be voted on this coming Monday.
Thompson said he has almost never seen the public react to a local political issue in such a way.
Panciuk opened Wednesday’s special council meeting, meant to discuss the committee’s recommendation, with strong words, chiding the response from some members of the public. Panciuk said some potential candidates had been harassed, “doxxed and bullied.”
“Some who were never even going to apply were accused of already having been selected and were contacted at their workplace with heavy suggestions that they should not seek this position,” Panciuk said.
He also said members of the committee were targeted as well.
“We’ve received letters, including one sent under a pseudonym to members of the ad hoc committee, sent to their actual workplaces, criticizing their involvement with disrespectful and classless comments,” he said.
The mayor called the behaviour unacceptable and disrespectful.
He then turned his attention towards the committee’s mandate, which was to prioritize candidates that would add to the diversity of council.
“I choose to look at the diversity of the applicants who represent the diversity of our city in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, age, as well as though the combination of long-term residents and those who are newly arrived,” he said.
According to the committee’s report, Jennifer McTavish, a woman who worked at the YMCA until she was let go during the coronavirus pandemic, was selected as the committee’s recommendation.
But that recommendation was never heard, nor was the committee’s report. Five out of eight councillors voted against even discussing the report.
Following the vote, Panciuk asked for a recess and told Thompson he would be calling him.
After the recess ended, Panciuk clarified that he had asked Thompson if he would bring his motion to reconsider Allsop then and there, rather than at Monday’s regular meeting.
In a phone interview, Thompson told Global News he wanted to give councillors and the public time to consider what had happened at Wednesday’s meeting, and not to rush the motion to reconsider Allsop.
Thompson noted that his motion will need six votes to even be considered, and as of Wednesday, he said it’s not clear if it will have those votes.
“If that dies, it’s not allowed to come back up for a whole year,” he said.
Panciuk noted that the deadline to decide how to replace the councillor is this coming Friday, but it seems for now, that deadline will not be met.