By TEREASA NIMS
Sunday Times Newspapers
RIVERVIEW – After the back-and-forth of he may be in, maybe he won’t, Bill Towle was sworn in to his seat on the City Council Tuesday to fill the two years left when Mayor Andrew Swift left the council.
“I’m anxious to begin serving on the city council,” Towle said, adding that he doesn’t expect it to be easy. “It’s going to be a battle, I’m sure.”
Towle attended nearly every city council meeting as a private citizen and took the council to task over pensions, budgets and transparency. Once when he missed a meeting, then-Mayor Tim Durand asked if someone should go to Towle’s house and make sure he was OK since he wasn’t at the meeting.
The seat would have gone to retired city employee Mark Drysdale, but he died Nov. 10 from injuries he suffered Nov. 2 when he fell from a ladder.
Drysdale still had until Nov. 20 to accept or refuse the position. City Clerk Cindi Hutchison then sent Towle a letter dated Nov. 20. Towle received it Nov. 23 and took it to the clerk Nov. 24 to accept the position, and Hutchison swore him in.
In dealing with vacant seats, the city charter as of Nov. 3 stated that the seat is offered to the highest votegetter not securing a seat. That person then has 10 days to accept or reject the position.
Drysdale was the fourth highest votegetter. The charter said if that person is not able to fulfill the duties, it goes to the next highest vote getter until someone accepts or the list is exhausted. However, sometime after the election, a line was added: “In no event shall the vacancy be offered to a candidate that did not receive at least ten percent of the voting electorate at that election.”
It wasn’t clear if that is 10 percent of the 2,309 who cast ballots on Nov. 3 or 10 percent of the 8,959 registered voters. Towle received 564 votes.
Towle said the change to the charter was another attempt to keep him off the council. He said the clerk called it a clarification; however, it is included in the body of the charter, which makes it part of the charter.
Towle has filed Freedom of Information Act requests asking for when the change was made and the legal opinion behind it. He received a copy of a letter dated Nov. 19 from City Attorney Randall Pentiuk to Hutchison.
Addressing the words “voting electorate” Pentiuk wrote: “The insertion of the word ‘voting’ in my view narrows the focus to just those members of the electorate who participated in the election. Applying the rules of statutory construction, we must give meaning and effect to every word in a law to the extent possible. It is, therefore, my opinion that this provision means 10 percent of the voters who voted at that specific election, and not 10 percent of the registered voters in the city.”
One of the items important to Towle is transparency. He hopes to increase the council’s transparency. He also hopes to evaluate the rebuttal times from residents at council meetings and look at pensions.
(Tereasa Nims can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)