‘Up to £25,000’ by-election was on cards

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BALLYMONEY Borough was facing a by-election costing ratepayers up to £25,000 - a cost which has not been accounted for in the rates estimate - had the situation over Iain McAfee’s seat not been rectified.

The news was revealed during last Monday’s (October 3) Full Council meeting following the resignation of Iain McAfee on September 26.

The Chief Executive of Ballymoney Borough Council Mr John Dempsey informed members that ‘a casual vacancy has arisen’ which left members with no choice but to either nominate one candidate or call a by-election. However, he also explained that if more than one name was put forward, Ballymoney ratepayers could still find themselves with a by-election.

Speaking at the meeting, Mr Dempsey read out a statement regarding the ‘Casual Vacancy’: “A casual vacancy has arisen due to the resignation of Cllr Iain McAfee, effective from 16:28 on 26 September 2011 when a letter signed by the councillor was received. The relevant regulation is the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 which states:

8 Resignation.

(1) A councillor may at any time resign his office as such by notice signed by him and served on the clerk of the council.

2) A resignation shall take effect upon the receipt by the clerk of the notice of resignation.

“This report sets out the legislative provisions for dealing with such a casual vacancy and gives an estimate of the budgetary implications. In accordance with the provisions of The Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962 (Amendment) Order 2010, the Chief Executive is required to inform the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) that a vacancy has occurred. “The relevant regulations are:

(4AB) The clerk of a district council must as soon as practicable after a casual vacancy arises notify the Chief Electoral Officer

(a) that a casual vacancy has arisen in the council, and

(b) of the name of the member of the council whose seat has become vacant (in this Act referred to as the “previous member”).

(4AC) The clerk of a district council must, within 7 days from any other matter concerning a casual vacancy coming to the clerk’s knowledge, report it to the Chief Electoral Officer.

“The 1962 Electoral Law Act, as amended by the 2010 Order, provides that a person who is elected as an independent member of council may supply to the CEO a list setting out the names, addresses and dates of birth of not more than six persons for the purpose of filling any casual vacancy in the member’s seat and indicate, where more than one person is named, an order of preference.

“The CEO has been informed of the vacancy as required by the legislation and has written to me stating that he has not received a list of names from the previous member.

“Where no list of substitutes has been supplied, the 1962 Act states:

11D.—(10) If—

(a) a casual vacancy arises in the seat of a member of a district council,

(b) the Chief Electoral Officer determines the previous member stood as an independent when elected, and

(c) the previous member has not given the Chief Electoral Officer a list of substitutes, an election must be held to fill the vacancy.

“The CEO has confirmed that a by-election must be held to fill the vacancy and the period within which it may be held. I have decided that, if a poll is required, the date will be Thursday 17th November with polling stations open from 07:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Formal Notice will be given next week.”

He continued: “Members should note that no provision has been made in the rate estimates for the cost of an election. In 2009 council received a report that the estimated cost of a contested election in Bann Valley DEA was between £20,000 and £25,000. That is the best estimate of a contested election in Ballymoney Town DEA.

“The cost would be considerably less if a poll is not required i.e. if at the close of the time for nominations and objections I have received only one nomination to which there has not been a valid objection.

“It is recommended that the cost of the by-election be met from reserves.”

Cllr John Finlay questioned a previous article (September 28) in the local newspaper which published a statement from Mr McAfee stating: ‘Several months ago the Electoral Commission sent me a letter regarding the option of nominating a substitute replacement in the event of my seat becoming vacant. I have forwarded to them a name of a possible replacement and would hope that Council accept this. Certainly several councillors who have been in contact with me have indicated they would support this so as to avoid a by-election.’

In response Cllr Finlay asked: “If you went by the local press, Mr McAfee said he had given names to the Electoral office which could mean a considerable amount of money saved. £20,000/£25,000 is a considerable amount of money for the ratepayers if no list of names was submitted.”

The Chief Executive said that he had been speaking to the CEO as late as Monday morning and he still had not been provided with a name. However he added: “It must be noted that the Chief Electoral Officer is a difference office.”

He also highlighted that the local MLA’s and Independents had been advised of the provisions to also give a list of substitutions which the CEO had still ‘not received anything by this morning from Mr McAfee’. He added that any ‘list was needed before a resignation’.

DUP Cllr Finlay commented that ‘we do not want to run away from a democratic system’ however believed: “Council is being forced now to spend £20,000/£25,000. I hope rate payers realise that it isn’t down to this Council - it’s totally out of our hands.”

The Chief Executive then asked for ‘authorisation to charge the cost of the by-election to the reserves budget, which Cllr Finlay ‘reluctantly’ proposed.

Concluding the Chief Executive noted that members had ‘not made any recommendation’ regarding ‘the charge in ramification’ if a ‘co-op candidate was nominated which could avoid the cost of a by-election’.