'The position of mayor is not a commodity': Richmond Hill residents urging mayoral byelection
Oct. 6, 2021
The mayor retired. Councillors are too often at each other's throats. The city is in dire need of leadership.
Since Mayor Dave Barrow took medical leave in February, Richmond Hill's council has struggled to function.
City business stood still as the remaining eight councillors often voted to a tie, failing to approve an affordable housing strategy, among other important motions.
Plagued by persistent bickering and even periodic bullying, some councillors have disrupted proceedings and verbally attacked each other during public meetings.
"Many residents find that disgusting. We have had enough!" said resident John Li, on behalf of Richmond Hill Umbrella Residents Group.
After Barrow stepped down on Sept. 15, Li and many other residents have been requesting the city to empower a new mayor through a byelection with online voting permitted.
Under the municipal act, council is required to fill the vacancy in the mayor's office within 60 days, by either appointing a qualified individual or passing a bylaw for a byelection.
Li told council that the mayor is the mayor of all Richmond Hill residents. "The position is not a commodity for any of you to bargain with. Residents must be allowed to participate."
According to a staff report, the estimated price tag for a byelection would be between $575,000 and $625,000.
But Li believes it is justifiable and worthwhile. "We can afford a cup of coffee per resident to vote for a better Richmond Hill."
However, some residents support the appointment process because it is costless, and in fact a general municipal election is due next October.
"Why spend more money for a byelection? The pandemic has affected the economy badly and taxpayer money should be well spent," Mary Ann Colin argued.
However, if it's a tie vote in an appointment, which seems highly likely to happen with this council, the new mayor gets appointed by the city clerk, who draws a name from a hat.
"The use of a lottery to select the mayor is an insult to democracy and an insult to the 200,000 residents of Richmond Hill," Li said.
On Sept. 29, a special council meeting to decide whether to call a byelection or appoint someone ended up in a contemptuous five-hour session filled with yelling, insults and constant interruptions.
At one point, acting mayor Joe DiPaola had to remove regional Coun. Carmine Perrelli from the meeting and call a recess because Perrelli wouldn't let others speak. Earlier in September, Perrelli was eliminated as a deputy mayor by council.
Council eventually voted 5-3 to hold a byelection next year with an online voting option, just months ahead of the scheduled 2022 municipal election.
However, the bylaw for this decision still needs to be approved at the next council meeting Oct. 13.
Besides residents, other councillors said that they too are tired of the unruly behaviour that has come to define this term of council.
"It's become very stressful," Ward 4 Coun. David West said. "It's not meeting the expectations the public have of us."
While it's embarrassing for the city, it also points to the gaps in provincial regulation that offers little remedy for when councils and politicians go rogue.
"It is such a disservice to the public when every meeting is basically jockeying for power, throwing a monkey wrench into things," said resident Carol Davidson.
Li said he did not trust the councillors to make the right decision on his behalf.
"Judging from the record, all of these councillors are only interested in their own interest," he said. "As residents of this city, we have lost confidence in them."
It's unclear, though, how a mayoral byelection will rectify the situation. If a current member of council wins, it will once again leave only eight at the table.
Li said without more stringent legislation to govern the conduct of council, there is little residents can do.