As reported by J.P. Antonacci in this week’s Brant News, residents of Brantford’s Ward 3 could soon see one of their two city council representatives vacate their seat.
During last Thursday’s estimates committee meeting, Ward 3 Coun. Debi Dignan-Rumble announced to her council colleagues that she plans to apply to replace Josie Mannen as executive assistant to the mayor. It was an announcement that brought a hush over council chambers and one that was most unexpected from the rookie city councillor.
“This type of job does not come around very often and the opportunity to work in this position would be very fulfilling and gratifying,” Dignan-Rumble said in a written statement distributed to members of the media. “This position would enable me to deal with constituent concerns (and) calls as I currently do, as well as still be an active participant in community events.”
Paying between $58,318 and $72,890 plus benefits, it’s a pretty plum position and much better paying than the $24,000 annual salary earned by city councillors. While we don’t begrudge her decision to apply, Dignan-Rumble’s move to seek a job in the mayor’s office raises a lot of questions.
Knowing she was planning to apply for the job, Dignan-Rumble at last Thursday’s estimates committee meeting declared a conflict of interest on a budget item tied to the mayor’s office, an illustration that her decision to apply for the executive assistant position has already affected her work as a city councillor.
If Dignan-Rumble is chosen as the successful candidate, there will be more questions, perhaps the biggest one being what to do about her seat on council. If Dignan-Rumble gets the job, she would be forced to resign her seat because rules say city employees are not allowed to serve as a member of council. Council would then have to determine whether to appoint a replacement, conduct a by-election in Ward 3 or leave the position vacant until the 2014 election. Just what to do would be a big decision for city councillors to make, but not one without precedent.
After Coun. Dave Wrobel’s decision to vacate his Ward 4 seat in February 2006 due to health reasons, city council decided to go back to 2003 election results, awarding the seat to third place Ward 4 finisher James Calnan, who remained on council until an unsuccessful bid for the mayor’s chair in 2010. It should be noted that former city councillor Greg Martin finished third in the 2010 Ward 3 race, 107 votes behind Dignan-Rumble.
Should her application for the executive assistant job be unsuccessful, Dignan-Rumble says she would stay on as a city councillor, which could make the 2014 municipal election quite interesting to watch in Brantford’s Ward 3. If Dignan-Rumble were to decide to run again, her opponents would certainly have some ammunition to use against her when the campaign gets underway. The question to voters might go something like this: “Do you want to be represented by a councillor who attempted to jump ship half way through her first term to seek a better-paying job in the mayor’s office, or do you want a councillor who will remain dedicated to your concerns for a full four years after the election?”
Certainly, Dignan-Rumble’s decision to seek a job in the mayor’s office has provided her prospective opponents some electoral ammunition to work with if she ends up running in the next municipal vote.
Where this story goes from here obviously depends on whether Dignan-Rumble actually gets the job she says she will apply for. With the posting set to close on Jan. 25, Brant News will be keeping an eye on developments.
And perhaps a sitting councillor’s decision to apply for a non-political job at city hall should lead Brantford residents to reflect on an often-debated issue: should the city move to full-time councillors with better pay for the work they do? Making that move just might help ensure elected councillors remain dedicated to staying in their position for a full four-year term.