Former Hamilton mayor Bob Morrow is one step closer to becoming caretaker councillor for Ward 3, a seat left vacant when Bernie Morelli died in January.
Councillors at the city’s general issues voted unanimously in favour of tapping Morrow to the position for the rest of the current term of council — although several were unhappy with the choice and the process of making that choice.
Council is set to vote to confirm the appointment at a special meeting on Friday.
The idea of filling Morelli's chair came "as a bolt out of the blue," Morrow, 67, said on Wednesday.
He said Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla phoned him about idea after Morelli's Jan. 14 death.
Morrow told CBC Hamilton he won't be saying much about the appointment until council makes it official.
However, he did speak about his relationship with Morelli, who sat on council during the final nine years of Morrow's mayoralty.
"We always had a very good relationship," Morrow said. "We worked well together. I’m awfully sorry that he died and I’ll try to go and do a good job in his stead."
Merulla, a longtime friend and ally of Morelli’s, put forward the motion, which called council to forego a byelection as well as a call for more applicants.
'I can tell you that I didn’t take any calls that this would be the wrong decision.'—Coun. Terry Whitehead
Conducting a ward vote in Ward 3 only less than year before the general election would be “foolhardy," while an interview process would be time-consuming and disrupt the “mourning” of residents who just lost their councillor, he said.
First elected to council in 1970, Morrow served as mayor of pre-amalgamation Hamilton between 1982 and 2000, making him the city's longest-serving chief magistrate.
People who think better candidates are out there, “I think are living in an unrealistic world,” Merulla added.
Though they voted for the motion, several councillors whose wards lie outside the old city of Hamilton did so reluctantly and raised concerns about the fairness of the process.
Ward 9’s Brad Clark said council should have interviewed a list of candidates instead of parachuting Morrow into the post.
“I haven’t spoken to Mr. Morrow in maybe 20 years,” he told the committee. “Would I hire someone into my own company without sitting down with someone and talking to them?”
Ward 10’s Maria Pearson raised doubts about whether Morrow, who last held a seat on council in 2000, would be the best candidate for the job.
“We all know around this table that there may have been a more qualified applicant,” she said. “Unfortunately, I’m concerned it’s the residents at the end the day who will suffer.”
Morrow doesn't reside in the area, but he said he grew up in Ward 3 and remains connected with the community through his work as a church organist at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church.
"I also shop in Ward 3," he added. "I know it well."
Lower-city and Mountain councillors defended Morrow’s credentials and his familiarity with Morelli’s central Hamilton ward.
“I can tell you that I didn’t take any calls that this would be the wrong decision,” said Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead, who once served as Morrow's staff assistant. “This should be one of those things that should be well-received by this council.”
Most councillors who expressed reservations about the appointment, though, didn’t question Morrow’s suitably for the job, but rather the process by which he is being appointed.
“It’s the element that we have aggressively strived to be transparent and accountable in everything we do," said Dundas's Russ Powers, "to allow proper discourse to take place.”
During the meeting, Lloyd Ferguson, councillor for Ancaster, asked Merulla if Morrow plans to run for the seat as an incumbent in the October election.
When a reporter posed Morrow the question, the former mayor said: “No, I’ll be telling the clerk tomorrow that I will not be doing that."