The first-term St. Catharines regional councillor informed his colleagues by way of email late Wednesday, March 30. Photo credit: The Niagara Independent
On Wednesday evening, St. Catharines regional councillor George Darte emailed the regional clerk and his fellow councillors with his immediate resignation from Niagara Regional Council as of March 30. In his message, he offered no explanation and requested councillors “…to respect my decision to resign”.
In his departing email, Darte wrote about the accomplishments of this term of council and listed as examples “integrated transit” and “Option 3C for Mother Earth”, the latter in reference to regulated local development.
Rules for filling the vacancy
The resignation of Darte creates a vacancy on council, which must be filled within 60 days.
Once the clerk receives the resignation, Regional Council must declare the seat vacant at their next council meeting, which took place Thursday night. This makes May 29 the deadline for Regional Council to fill the vacancy.
As per regional policy, it has been the practice of Niagara Regional Council to ask the local municipality where the vacancy occurred to make a recommendation on who should be appointed. With George Darte being elected in St. Catharines, this translates to the City of St. Catharines Council making the recommendation. In a staff report, the regional clerk suggested that St. Catharines Council make its recommendation by April 29.
Looking at St. Catharines Council’s meeting calendar, it has a meeting dated April 25. As per the city’s policy, the common practice is to recommend the “next place finisher” who received the highest number of votes to fill the Regional Council vacancy. If the policy were to be followed, then Mike Britton would be selected.
But, as St. Catharines councillors have demonstrated, they don’t always follow the rules they create.
Further, given that Darte’s recommendation occurred on March 30, Regional Council (not the St. Catharines Council) could make the recommendation to fill the vacancy by conducting a by-election. However, with a municipal election in October of this year, one could argue the money could be best used in other social programs.
The Sendzik-Siscoe Affair
The City of St. Catharines Council doesn’t always follow the rules.
With the death of Sandie Bellows last October, the Region of Niagara was required to fill the vacancy which occurred on its Council. As per regional policy, they asked St. Catharines Council for a recommendation. In a stunning and controversial surprise, St. Catharines Council selected one of their own, City Councillor Mat Siscoe, to fill the vacancy. This selection created significant discourse that some City Hall critics would label as an “affront to democracy”, given that the recommendation was not indicative of what voters wanted.
The City of St. Catharines policy states that the Council is to recommend the next place finisher of the ballot, which would have been Mike Britton. The Niagara Independent has learned that the City’s selection and behaviour related to the appointment of Mat Siscoe is being investigated by the Integrity Commissioner, as Siscoe voted for himself. Subsequent complaints were filed against Mayor Walter Sendzik as well.
With Darte’s resignation, The Niagara Independent contacted Mike Britton for comment as he is the “next place finisher” as selected by the electorate, and according to the City’s own policy, should be the one recommended to fill the vacancy.
“I thank George for his many years of dedicated service to our community – both on Council and as a prominent business leader,” Britton said, “We are members of the same Rotary Club, and I know George will continue to be part of building a better Niagara well into the future regardless of the position he holds.”