Battle of Bunker Hill continues
No Christmas ceasefire in war of words between citizens and council
In its final public act for 2009, the Carbonear Town Council passed a controversial motion last week, which will effectively see residents of Bunker Hill lose a service they have enjoyed for years - snow clearing of a service road which gives them access to the steep and narrow hill from the top rather than the bottom.
The motion passed by a slim 4-3 majority, but not before considerable and sometimes heated debate at a raucous Dec. 21 public council meeting during which a citizen referred to Councillor Gladys Mercer as “a witch” before storming out of the council chambers.
Coun. Mercer had made the motion, seconded by coun. David Kennedy. Coun. Ed Goff and deputy mayor Ches Ash also voted in favour, while mayor Sam Slade and councillors George Butt and Betty Forward opposed it. In part the motion reads: “ Whereas the town of Carbonear does not consider the service road beyond 55 Bunker Hill to be a town street, and
Whereas the town has received legal advice from the town’s lawyer of the liability concern with council’s maintenance of this section of road, and
Whereas the town is in receipt of information provided by the department of transportation regarding the safety concerns of the location of this section of road;
Be it resolved that the town...will not take the responsibility of maintenance of or snow removal services to that service road, and
Be it further resolved that the town will investigate possible solutions with the town’s lawyer and the department of transportation to reduce the risk of liability to the town so that the section of road can be cleared for emergency purposes only.”
The motion also states the town
“considers this matter to be an urgent concern, and would require a prompt response from the department of transportation and the town’s lawyer...”
Coun. George Butt, who voted against the motion, also presented a petition on behalf of the Bunker Hill residents.
Referring to the nameless service road, the residents pointed out the section of road is not only used by residents of Bunker Hill but by many town residents and tourists wishing to take advantage of its view.
“ The town itself also uses this road through the winter months to make easier access to Bunker Hill for snow removal. After heavy snow falls often the plough cannot clear the snow uphill, but has to clear it in a down hill motion.”
Residents found it “odd that after all these years there seems to be a need to cease the servicing of this road.”
Pointing out, “the town has serviced this road for the past 30 plus years,” they noted: “ Through the work of all past councils it has gone from a cart path to a viably used road.” They feel “this sudden cessation of upgrade service is a sudden prejudice against us that use the road.”
The petition, signed by over 100 residents, calls upon council to “ have upgrade services immediately and without prejudice reinstated to this piece of road.”
Coun. Butt who was re-elected to council in September, after a one-term absence, was first elected to council in 1983.
While he acknowledged it was never a top priority, coun. Butt said it had always been ploughed. “I don’t agree with not ploughing it now,” he added.
“ That road has been ploughed for the past 26 years, “ coun. Butt told the meeting. And we’ve had situations where ambulances and fire trucks have used that road to access Bunker Hill.
One resident who could vouch for that fact was Mrs. Parsons, who related a personal experience that occurred 28 years ago. Her daughter had been born prematurely and sometimes needed oxygen. One stormy night she had to call the ambulance, which could not get up the hill. So it went around, using the service road and accessing the hill from the top. Having that access from the road allowed the ambulance to make it to her home on time. “If not,” Mrs. Parsons said her daughter wouldn’t have lived.
No conflict of interest
For the first time since the debate over the nameless service road first surfaced earlier this year, Mayor Sam Slade remained in the chair, after his fellow councillors decided he was not in a conflict of interest just because he happens to live at the top of Bunker Hill near the west end of the service road.
“I don’t think you’re in a conflict, coun. David Kennedy told the mayor, adding, “if there was a major upgrade of that road being considered, maybe you would be. But this is only snow clearing, a service provided to every citizen.” Deputy mayor Ches Ash and coun. George Butt agreed.
Town Administrator Cynthia Davis told council when she checked with the department of municipal affairs she was told some cases of conflict of interest are clear and obvious. But in this situation they couldn’t comment on whether or not the mayor was in any conflict.
Deputy mayor Ash suggested conflict is such a serious matter, that if in fact the mayor involved himself in an issue in which he was found to be in conflict, it could result in his dismissal. “I would not want to put the mayor in danger of being dismissed because we gave him the wrong information,” Ash said.
Pointing out the department had advised that in this case it was up to council to decide if a conflict existed, Davis said, she (department spokeswoman) “didn’t think this would be something the minister would overrule.”
The council chamber was packed with over 30 upset residents including two delegations with permission to address council.
Cyril Winsor, who lives next door to mayor Slade said, “Gladys seems to think it (road) had never been ploughed,” referring to coun. Mercer.
“ There is no need of getting into a shouting match here,” mayor Slade said from the chair.
Handing out letters to all councillors from four former plough operators, Winsor said, “if you turn this down now, this is wrong.”
He said, “older couples on the hill are really concerned about getting this road ploughed. They’re asking, “why are we paying taxes?” I got water I can’t drink. I’m paying $1,700 a year up there.” Suggesting he thought this new council were going to do more for the people who elected them, Winsor said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you people, but we ain’t goin’ to take it. If we don’t get what we want, I’ll form a citizens’ committee,” he threatened, “and we’ll be down here every day to bust your butts. I’m really mad - this is a pile of shit.”
When asked to tone it down, Winsor replied, “these guys really make me mad - certain people on this council make me mad. If you guys think you’re goin’ to get away with this and we’re goin’ to put up with this, we’re not.”
Coun. Gladys Mercer asked former councillor and works superintendent Jim Burden if that particular road (service road) was on the list of roads to be ploughed as part of the regular routine.
“It was part of the regular routine after all other roads were ploughed,” Burden responded.
“ Were you aware it was not a town road but part of the department of transportation’s road reservation?” she continued.
“I wasn’t interested in who owned it - since 1980 we ploughed it,” Burden replied.
Diane Chubbs has lived on Bunker Hill for 32 years. “I don’t understand why, all of a sudden, the taking away of ploughing of Bunker Hill,” she said
Coun. Mercer said, “I know the road was ploughed. But that’s not the issue now. In the last six months we have been given information we never had before - that the road belongs to the provincial department of transportation as part of the road reservation for Veterans Memorial Highway. By ploughing the road now, we would be putting legal responsibility onto the town,” she explained.
“I’m not against the people of Bunker Hill,” coun. Mercer tried to assure them.
“Bologna! Cyril Winsor shouted. “ You’re only making people mad here.”
Unbelievable service reduction
While being declared not to be in a conflict of interest allowed mayor Slade to remain in the mayor’s chair for most of the debate, when it came to getting involved in the debate himself, he had to take a seat with the delegations and allow deputy mayor Ash to take over the chair.
In his 16 years on council, mayor Slade said, “I’ve never seen council reduce a service to its citizens to this magnitude.” “ This is unbelievable!” the mayor exclaimed. Had this road not been ploughed all along up to this point, and the citizens were asking for it now, Slade said, “I would be the first to say no. But it is considered to be a reduction of services, a downgrading of services, which I will not support.”
Pointing out, “ that road has been ploughed every year,” the mayor said, “ for some reason or other council don’t seem to believe what I’m saying is true.”
Never thinking he would see the day when council would actually be reducing services to its citizens, mayor Slade said, “I’m not happy with this and I’m not going to participate in it. Let’s enhance service, not reduce it!”
The mayor reminded council that while this road was being serviced (including ploughing) for a long time, “ the department of transportation didn’t tell council not to service this road.”
As for the “so called conflicting headlights,” Slade suggested a guardrail would eliminate that problem.
“If Bunker Hill is getting a reduction in services today, who is it going to be tomorrow?” the mayor wondered.
When coun. Mercer suggested this issue never came up before six months ago, mayor Slade said it did.
“I don’t remember it (coming up before),” she continued.
While the crowd were in an angry mood, they did give coun. David Kennedy a round of applause when he admitted that having travelled the 650-metre length of Bunker Hill, “ it is the worst road in Carbonear.”
Debra Bradbury, who has been trying unsuccessfully to get a permit to build a home on the nameless road said Don Brennan of transportation told her if the town wanted to upgrade the road it needs to be moved back over two metres.
She said transportation said they “ knew nothing about that road because it’s not in their inventory.”
Bradbury argued it has been known for three years and saw “no reason it can’t be upgraded to the way it was.
“ Do you guys (council) follow your own ( town) plan, or only when it’s convenient?” Bradbury asked council.
When Bradbury said she had been speaking to Brian O’Grady about the road three years ago, the director of operations and public works said that couldn’t be because he has actually been in that job for less than two years.
Bradbury wanted to know, “ why can you plough 45 feet into that hill, as far as the top of Squibb’s Hill, but not all of it?
At one point during the debate, after coun. Mercer had spoken, Cyril Winsor remarked, “she won’t shut up! She should leave this g.d. hall, not me!
Acknowledging he would probably be asked to leave anyway, Winsor shouted at coun. Mercer, “ you’re a witch!” before storming out of the chambers.
Dep. mayor Ash said, “the residents of Bunker Hill don’t have to convince me of the benefits of having that road ploughed.”
However he felt the criticism of coun. Mercer was unfair. Defending his fellow councillor, he said, “she’s doing nothing more than trying to take an honest look at this issue.”
The deputy mayor said, “ I’m very concerned with the way Mr. Winsor conducted himself here tonight. I don’t think he should be allowed back in the chambers until he apologizes to council and to coun. Mercer in particular.”
As soon as the motion was passed, Winsor came to the door just long enough to shout to the residents: “I told you you wouldn’t get nothing here tonight.”
During he meeting, council agreed to plough Cemetery Road in the northeast section of town, especially during this time of year, when people are home and wanting to visit family and loved ones buried in the Interfaith Cemetery.
That decision prompted Debra Bradbury to ask The Compass outside the chambers after the meeting: “ You mean to tell me they’re going to plough a road for the dead when they can’t even plough another one for the living?”
Council has now recessed for Christmas and New Year’s. The next public meeting is scheduled for Jan. 11, 2010.