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.

Di­verse group

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.

Res­i­dent view

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

Pho­tos by Nicholas Mercer/the Com­pass

Ralph Snow

Neil Hil­lier

Phyl­lis Whalen

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