By Kirk Starratt
Kings County council has officially appointed a returning officer for the upcoming special elections in Districts 8 and 11.
There weren’t enough councillors on hand the evening of Feb. 5 to legally hold a meeting, but there was a quorum for an emergency meeting the following afternoon. The special meeting was called specifically to appoint the returning officer. As pointed out by Chief Administrative Officer Bob Ashley on Feb. 5, this was considered an urgent matter. Nomination day is Feb. 19 and election day is March 16.
The six councillors on hand approved unanimously the appointment of Pat Martin of Scott’s Bay as returning officer. The fee paid for these services will be $5,000, consistent with prior years.
Ashley said the municipality advertised the returning officer position and directly invited some people known to have experience to apply. Martin applied for the position. Although she hasn’t acted as a returning officer before, she does have experience working in elections at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, Ashley said.
“I feel she’ll do a good job for us this time around,” Ashley said.
However, not all councillors agreed with the hiring of an assistant returning officer.
Coun. Kim MacQuarrie only learned of the position when she read a Feb. 5 staff report to council. The fee for the assistant returning officer’s services will be $2,500 and the chief administrator, acting in the capacity of municipal clerk, will make the appointment. The position doesn’t require council approval.
MacQuarrie said she’s concerned over setting a precedent with the amount of money being spent on a go-forward basis. She added that she doesn’t know what the justification is for hiring an assistant returning officer. Council and staff must be mindful that they’re spending tax dollars, she said.
Ashley said the reason is a perceived need on the last election night. The returning officer was overworked, resulting in some delays and disorganization. Given the controversy with the last election, he said, the municipality wants to cover its bases.
“We want to steer clear of any potential risks of the election going south in any way,” Ashley said, pointing out they can work within the $25,000 special election budget set by council.
MacQuarrie said she is disappointed in the hiring of an assistant returning officer and that she apparently has no say in the matter as a councillor.
“I don’t feel we spent our money wisely in this situation,” MacQuarrie said.
Coun. Pauline Raven echoed MacQuarrie’s concerns and said what happened with the last election isn’t justification for hiring extra people this time.
Coun. Brian Hirtle expressed concerns over the number of advance polling locations, more than in October in the subject districts.
The five councillors who were on hand the previous evening - Warden Diana Brothers and councillors Bob Best, MacQuarrie, Raven and Hirtle - were joined by Deputy Warden Mike Ennis for the Feb. 6 emergency meeting.
“We do have a quorum today,” Brothers said, pointing out the rest of the business on the Feb. 5 agenda could be handled at a special meeting of council. This meeting has been tentatively set for Feb. 11 at 9 a.m.
Ennis wasn’t able to attend the previous evening due to the flu. Coun. Emma Van Rooyen was ill and unable to attend. Coun. Patricia Bishop is working in Kenya and Coun. Wayne Atwater was away. The District 8 and 11 seats are vacant, necessitating the special elections.
Supreme Court Judge Gregory Warner overturned results of the Oct. 20 elections in Districts 8 and 11 when ruling Dec. 21 that candidates Rick Ackland and Jim Winsor shouldn’t have been disqualified for serving as municipal citizen appointees on boards and committees.