By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Veteran Morinville Town Councillor Ben Van de Walle has stepped down after being recently diagnosed with leukemia, prompting a by-election to fill his vacant council seat. Council called a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to decide if a by-election would be held to fill the seat.
“He just felt with his health he wouldn’t be able to carry on his duties as councillor,” said Debbie Oyarzun, Morinville’s Chief Administrative officer, adding Councillor Van de Walle submitted his resignation July 16.
Councillor Lisa Holmes said Council has been upset by the recent news. “Since we got the news about Councillor Van de Walle we’ve all been in shock and really upset,” she said. “I think the thought now is how are we going to move forward, and what is in the best interests of the Town.”
Under the Municipal Government Act, Council was not obligated to fill the vacancy, but councillors voted Tuesday to do so. Council originally intended to have the discussion at their Aug. 28 agenda; however, pressing matters and timelines made council realize it would be necessary to make the decision earlier to get things moving. “We found out very quickly that we had some significant time constraints,” Oyarzun said. “So we held a spacial meeting to get Council’s decision on whether or not to wanted to proceed.”
The CAO said Tuesday afternoon’s meeting was a subdued affair. “Everyone was very heavy hearted and not wanting to make the decision because of this reason, based on this reason,” Oyarzun said of Council’s discussion on replacing their ill colleague.
Oyarzun said the by-election will be held Sept. 20 and that nominations for the seat will close Aug. 23.
Whoever earns the seat will have a heavy agenda out of the gate. “It’s going to be a tough one because Council is running into business planning and budgeting and also the following week is the AUMA [Alberta Urban Municipal Association] convention,” Oyarzun explained. “That will give the new council member a good learning experience and kind of get them in there right away and oriented as far as the AUMA convention goes. From that perspective it’s good, but timing wise orientation is going to be heavy because of the time frame.”
Councillor Holmes said there are pros and cons to a by-election and that all was discussed at the July 31 meeting, including the prospect that an even number of councillors could result in motions being defeated if there is a tie. “We’re looking to strengthen Council as much as we can,” Holmes said. “It’s going to be a big challenge for someone to step into Councillor Van de Walle’s shoes at a time when we’re in the middle of doing our governance review and in the budget process and things like that. Our Council is committed to really support and help the person who gets elected to become educated on those things very quickly.”