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Guergis’s oversight of secret ballot count: Process not ‘set out in stone’

In Simcoe County
Dec 4th, 2009

By Kate Harries WaterWatch
Should Simcoe County Warden Tony Guergis have accompanied Deputy Clerk Brenda Clark for the counting of the secret ballots in the election of the chair of the new waste management strategy steering committee?
No, says Ann Truyens, one of several SDS41 group members in the public gallery who were surprised when Guergis – who had just cast his vote as a committee member – escorted Clark, carrying the ballots, from the council chamber..
“A secret vote should be counted in the view of everyone,” said Truyens. “The clerk or whoever – an independent person – should do it right there in front of the room and read out each piece of paper as she opens it.”
Innisfil Deputy Mayor Gord Wauchope had been nominated by Severn Mayor Phil Sled, while Zero Waste representative Gord McKay, a public member on the committee, was nominated by Nickolas Rowe, also a public rep.
The voting membership of the committee is evenly split between five Simcoe County  councillors, and five members of the public. One public member – Mark Guthrie of Clearview Township – was absent for the first meeting, on November 18.
When Clark and Guergis returned, Wauchope was declared elected and a motion to destroy the ballots was passed.
The process was in order, Clark said in interview, explaining that the waste committee chair election was modeled on the annual election of warden, which is also carried out by secret ballot.
What about the concern that the ballot is no longer secret if a participant helps count the votes? Shouldn’t the observer of the count been an independent person who hadn’t voted?
Clark said that in the warden election, members of council participate in the counting of the ballots even though they have voted. Each candidate nominates a fellow councilor to represent him or her in the count.
But in this case, McKay did not have a representative to perform that scrutineer function.
“It’s difficult when the group is only 10 voting members,” Clark said, adding that apart from the standing committee chairs, who are elected at the same time as the warden, it’s not normal practice for there to be a vote.
“Typically there isn’t more than one candidate that runs for chair and vice chair, typically somebody does decline,” she said.
“As far as any subcommittees are concerned, we don’t really have a process established, set out in stone for those committees.”
Asked whether she saw anything improper in Guergis being the only person to witness the count, Clark suggested that the question be addressed to Clerk Glen Knox because “it sounds to me that you’re calling into question my integrity.”
Not so, Clark was told, but the integrity of the process is an issue that was raised at last week’s SDS41 meeting, attended by 80 people.
Knox called and promised to look into the matter. He then phoned back to state: “His worship was the second set of eyes in counting the ballots.”
On what basis?
“That the deputy clerk thought there would be benefit in having a second set of eyes rather than just one person and I understand that it was noted (to the committee) that the warden would be the second set of eyes.”
Observers in the gallery did not hear any information about Guergis’s role being noted to the committee.
McKay, the unsuccessful candidate who was then acclaimed as vice-chair, said he does not know what the county rules are or whether the process was appropriate or not.
“I’m quite happy with my position,” he said. “I think there’s a bigger issue here – and this way I get to be more vocal.”
McKay said the committee faces a huge challenge in coming up with the right waste strategy for the county in a very short timeframe and must avoid being sidetracked.
“I think we made a lot of progress just having this committee and I don’t want to trip up on procedural issues.”
Guergis did not return phone calls.
Truyens is not satisfied by the clerk’s explanation.
“This really bothers me,” she said. “I think they should redo the voting when all 10 members are there. And do it in front of us… They’re so concerned that we don’t trust them. Well, why don’t we?”
The issue of whether a matter can be voted on twice also appears to be not set in stone at Simcoe County. Public rep Rowe moved that the committee proceedings be recorded. He won the vote. Wauchope ordered a revote. Taping opponents rallied and the decision was reversed.

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