A crusade of candidates
More than two dozen citizens Clarke’s Beach file nomination papers
It’s early morning on Thursday, Sept. 5, and the skies over Clarke’s Beach are overcast.
The ground is still wet from an overnight rainfall, and a pair of walkers hurry along, hoping to escape any downpours.
It’s just before 9 a.m. and many of the town’s 1,400 residents have already boarded their vehicles and headed to work or transported their children to school.
In the distance, the roar of a dump truck mixes with the consistent thump of a hammer.
Customers are scarce this time of day at the post office, the pharmacy and a local gas bar.
To the uninitiated, Clarke’s Beach fits the bill of a peaceful, sleepy little town in the heart of Conception Bay.
Nestled between South River and North River, the town is set against the backdrop of a picturesque mountain face.
On the surface, the town appears tranquil, while at the same time there’s a sense of progress as several new homes rise from their foundations.
However, underneath the peaceful setting is a layer of discontent.
Parade of candidates
Clarke’s Beach has been the poster child for municipal disarray for the past several years, with countless headlines about the toxic relationship between Mayor Betty Moore and most of the remaining six members of council, questionable decisions, public disputes over the operation of a trailer park, bickering over the status of a non-resident member of council, and general anger and disapproval from some residents about what some feel is a lack of transparency.
It all climaxed late last year when a feature article in Maclean’s magazine declared Clarke’s Beach “Canada’s most dysfunctional municipality.”
The article ignited a firestorm of debate in the town, and served to further divide many in the community. Many expressed embarrassment, mixed with anger, while others saw it as a final straw, vowing to be part of a movement intent on bringing about change.
But the controversy didn’t end there. The town’s outspoken deputy mayor, Kevin Hussey, is in the midst of a legal battle, having been charged with theft over $5,000 in connection with a high profile land dispute with a local doctor. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge, and is seeking re-election, adding yet another layer of intrigue.
This was the atmosphere as nomination day approached on Sept. 3, and there were rumblings for many months that the negativity and controversy of the past would manifest itself in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 24 municipal election.
Despite this, it’s unlikely that even the most astute observer could have predicted the level of interest from prospective candidates.
By the time nominations closed at 8 p.m., a mind-boggling 26 residents of Clarke’s Beach had submitted their names for election, arguably the most of any municipality in the province. That number has since dropped to 25, with a male candidate later withdrawing his name.
The slate of challengers includes six females, 19 males, and people from a broad range of backgrounds, including a former bank manager, an arena manager, a school administrator, several businessmen, a farmer, government workers and several others employed in the private sector. At least one is a former municipal leader who previously challenged for the mayor’s chair.
The numbers are even more staggering when compared to neighbouring municipalities. In Brigus, for example, only five people came forward, leaving two seats unfilled, while in South River, six candidates — all incumbents — filed nomination papers and were acclaimed.
Bay Roberts, the largest town in the region, has nine running for council and two for mayor, while in St. John’s, the capital city, there are only slightly more candidates — 31 in total — than in Clarke’s Beach.
It’s obvious that there’s a high degree of restlessness and dissatisfaction among the voting public, so we sought out some reaction last week in the town.
One of the questions is what motivated so many newcomers to step forward?
Candidate Norm Hillier, a retired bank manager, lifelong volunteer, and 13-year resident of Clarke’s Beach, said the activities of the previous council did play a role.
Hillier said he wants to bring some “sound financial management” practices to the town, and is running on a slogan that promises trust, vision and leadership.
“I’ve been attending meetings and there’s nothing only squabbles, with people going against each other and spending money that most people in the town think has been wasteful. I want to go and try to manage it the best we can,” he said.
Like many of the candidates, Hillier has been knocking on doors, and is constantly hearing the same message — people want change.
“They want change from the bickering and that type of thing. The gang-up on the previous mayor has been quite an issue. They want to see something done,” he added.
From a voter standpoint, many are still trying to comprehend the fact that so many candidates will be on the ballot.
“I was amazed. It was so many,” said Phyllis Whalen.
Another resident, Bill Jefferies, believes there is change coming to the town council and it is something he longs to see.
“I hope there are seven new names on council come Sept. 25,” he said.
Some would say that having 19 new names plus six incumbents on the ballot could serve to hinder the apparent winds of change that are blowing through Clarke’s Beach. Not Jefferies. “I think this is going to be very helpful. These 19 new people, they’re going to be very helpful,” he said.
The general consensus among residents is that the number of candidates is a clear sign that the community wants something different.
“It goes to show that people want change,” said Neil Hillier.
He said he thinks a lot of it has to do with the negative headlines the town has been generating, including Hussey’s recent charge of theft.
Ralph Snow shares the same thoughts as Hillier.
“I think there are a lot of unsatisfied citizens with what’s been going on in Clarke’s Beach the last number of years,” he said. “I think we need a change, and I believe we’ll get a change.”
While some residents of Clarke’s Beach see 25 candidates as a sign that change is in the air in the community, there is another thing they all agree on.
“I ’m going to have to go and do some research before I can decide,” said Snow.
“I think there are a lot of unsatisfied citizens with what’s been going on in Clarke’s Beach the last number of years. I think we need a change, and I believe we’ll get a change.” — Clarke’s Beach resident Ralph Snow