I was back in the public gallery the next day. This time it was easier to find a place to sit, there being no public participation meeting, and things had moved so quickly after the former mayor's resignation, that not all those interested were aware of how things were unfolding. I picked a front row centre seat. I didn't want to miss a trick.
We had been told that the appointment of the new mayor would be dealt with at 5 p.m. and so it was. Again Joe Swan, as acting mayor, was in the chair. He complimented councillors on their handling of the previous meeting and asked for their continued cooperation.
The atmosphere was tense, both on the council floor and in the public gallery. Who would the new mayor be? Even newcomers sat down quickly without the usual hand-waves and whispers to friends and colleagues.
Swan had a script to follow. Nothing would be left to chance. He called on the clerk to "state the process" they would be undertaking.
Cathy Saunders was ready. She had worked long and hard over this. There wouldn't be any challenges or amendments. She had all the bases covered.
They had approved the resolution before them the night before, she reminded them. First they would deal with nominations. There would be no discussion of the voting process until the nominations were completed. One step at a time. Each member would be asked in ward order whether he or she wished to have his or her name put forward for nomination and would consent to serving as mayor if appointed. Her deputy, Linda Rowe, would manually create the list projected onto a screen for all to see.
"Any questions?" Swan asked.
Stephen Orser had his hand up. He wanted to know if the voting on the nominees would be in order of ward or nomination. Already, he was strategizing how to get his preference in first, a practice that gives you an advantage when making nominations for committees.
They were dealing with nominations, not voting, Swan reminded him. Orser sat down.
Saunders proceeded to call for nominations. She would read the name of the councillor and ask the two questions: do you want your name put forward and do you consent to serve if appointed.
Ward 1 councillor Bud Polhill was first. "Yes," he said when asked the two questions.
No one seemed surprised. He has wanted to be mayor for a long time, but has pulled back with each election. As the longest serving member, he considers his ward seat safe, but a run for mayor could jeopardize everything. Better to take a chance with your colleagues than the electorate. You get to keep your seat that way.
Bill Armstrong declined, as did Orser. Baechler said yes when asked, followed by "thanks but no thanks" from Nancy Branscombe, Matt Brown and Paul Hubert.
Then it was Dale Henderson's turn. "Yes," he replied. There were quiet chuckles and exchanged glances in the gallery but all on the council floor kept straight faces. Dale Henderson as mayor?? It was the same lack of self-awareness that had led him to seek a variety of committee chair positions. Unsuccessfully, of course.
Paul VanMeerbergen felt obliged to point out that his outside employment would interfere with his ability to perform the role of mayor. Denise Brown, too, declined. But when he was asked, Harold Usher responded with "I do!"
Although there had been media speculation that Judy Bryant might be interested in giving it a whirl after having made such a good showing in the provincial election, she too declined.
Then Sandy White was asked.
"I'm tempted to say yes to get everyone riled up," she answered, "but no thank you."
Swan, as chair, was asked last. Some of us had been wondering about his intentions about which he has been quite evasive. But he too refused.
So that provided four contenders. The list was duly read by Rowe and accepted by the council. Now onto the next exciting part, the voting.
The clerk explained this part of the process. She would read the list of nominees to each councillor in order of ward. "Say yes to the one you want," she directed. Each councillor would get one vote and only yes votes would be permitted. After the first round, the nominee receiving the lowest number of votes would be eliminated from the slate, a new slate would be adopted, and voting would continue until one nominee received the support of the majority of council members. Eight votes or more.
She was explaining in detail, leaving out nothing, choosing her words so carefully that she was beginning to trip over them.
"You can see how my day has been," she laughed.
Usher was still unclear. He wanted to know when it came to his turn, should he call out the name of the person he wanted to support?
"I will call the names," Saunders replied. "When you hear the name you want, say yes." The votes would be tallied manually by the deputy clerk but all would be able to observe on the projection screen.
Swan then called for members to vote on a resolution that the nominee receiving a majority would be named mayor. Voting was well under way when Saunders called a halt. They weren't there, yet. They had to take their votes off.
Swan objected. "It was on the paper," he protested. "I read it!"
No matter, he had jumped the gun. He had to take back his vote.
Now voting for mayor was about to begin, but Orser had a thought. The candidates should each give a two minutes speech outlining their commitments and future intentions.
"We accepted a process yesterday," Swan cut in. "That wasn't part of it."
And so they began to vote.
"Councillor Polhill," said Saunders. "Councillor Polhill..."
"Yes," said Councillor Polhill. And so, Rowe place a tick mark beside and under his name in the table that she had created. Ward 1 had voted.
"Councillor Armstrong: Councillor Polhill; Councillor Baechler..."
"Yes." A tick mark beside Armstrong's name and under Baechler's. So far, so good. Ward 2 had weighed in.
But then it got confusing. The ward 3 councillor was sitting in the mayor's chair. The clerk called out "Councillor Orser" but he was not ready for his turn, so he said yes when she named Baechler. He asked to vote again and was given leeway. His vote was for Polhill.
Rowe, too, had some difficulty keeping things straight when ward 3 had been skipped. It took a series of votes for Baechler from Baechler, Branscombe, Matt Brown and Hubert, for Polhill by VanMeerbergen, for Henderson by himself, and for Baechler by Denise Brown, before it was fully sorted out. At the request of Usher, Swan cast his vote for Polhill rather than waiting until all others had voted. Then Usher voted for himself and White voted for Polhill.
Rowe announced the results: Polhill 5, Baechler 7, Henderson 1, Usher 1.
It was a cliff hanger. The best that Polhill could hope for was a tie, unless someone changed his vote. But what would Henderson and Usher do?
I was pretty sure that Henderson would go with Polhill. After all, they were both part of the eight people that, according to an earlier proclamation by Henderson, ruled London. I wasn't sure about Usher. He's unpredictable. He could be the kingmaker. But would he?
That appeared to be very much on Usher's mind too. "In the event that the next vote is a tie, what do we do?" he wanted to know.
Those of us breathless in the gallery wanted to know that too. Would the acting mayor get a second vote to break a tie? That would put Swan in the position of kingmaker, and he too was part of the Fontana 8.
He had been advised, said Swan, that they had to do one vote at a time so that they wouldn't be accused of "thinking ahead", something that they were becoming noted for.
They voted to put forward the new slate of Polhill and Baechler. All voted as expected, with Henderson casting in his lot with Polhill. Then it was Usher's turn.
"Councillor Usher," said the clerk. "Councillor Polhill; Coun..."
"Polhill," responded Usher.
There was a gasp in the gallery.
One more vote for Baechler. Then Sandy White had her turn.
"Baechler," she said, but quickly corrected herself. She had meant to say Polhill. Of course.
So there it was: another tied vote. What now?
They would put forward the same resolution, Swan said, "to see if it will hold."
Everyone was nervous, even the clerk. She invited Councillor Branscombe to choose between Councillor Polhill and Councillor Branscombe, and referred to the deputy clerk as Councillor Rowe.
"No thanks," said Rowe.
"Councillor Usher," said the clerk. "Councillor Polhill; Councillor Baechler."
"Baechler," replied Usher. A sigh of relief in the gallery.
Later, Usher explained his behaviour. "I wanted to vote for them both," he said. "So I did. First for Polhill, then for Baechler." He had known it would all come out alright, but he had certainly given many of us in the gallery a bit of a turn.
When the last vote was cast, the gallery burst out in a standing ovation. Polhill was quick to make it unanimous.
"We were close, there," he said. "Just one vote. That's how it often is."
But the vote to make it unanimous was not quite that. It was 13-0.
Sandy White had already left the room to confer with the campaign manager for the newly declared mayoralty candidate, Roger Caranci.