Don Coombs re­acts to loss

Mas­sive turnover in Har­bour Grace coun­cil cham­ber; Terry Barnes wins top post

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BYMELISSA JENK­INS

Some res­i­dents of Con­cep­tion Bay North were glued to their com­puter screens on the evening of Sept. 24, post­ing to so­cial me­dia ev­ery cou­ple of min­utes look­ing for re­sults to a very hyped and in­tense mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion in Har­bour Grace.

In the end, word sur­faced that, for the first time in 20 years, Don Coombs will not be the mayor of this his­toric town.

The very last polling re­sults re­leased for the re­gion came from the town of some 3,200 peo­ple, af­ter a long wait with very few up­dates avail­able through­out the night.

Re­sults for the mayor’s seat were re­leased first, with a close race be­tween Coombs and chal­lenger Terry Barnes, who just com­pleted four years as deputy mayor.

Af­ter 24 years on coun­cil, Coombs was ousted by a mar­gin of 70 votes.

The coun­cil re­sults came af­ter mid­night, with all four in­cum­bent mem­bers los­ing their seats.

Six new faces will rep­re­sent the town in the coun­cil cham­ber this term, in­clud­ing for­mer fire chief So­nia Wil­liams, who re­ceived the high­est num­ber of votes of any can­di­date, with 1,232 in her favour — al­most 300 more than her clos­est ri­val.

Change cam­paign

Coombs de­scribed the re­sult as dis­ap­point­ing, but he re­spects the voice of the vot­ers.

He also said this was the first time he felt he was fight­ing hard to keep the po­si­tion, since it was ex­pected to be a tight race.

“I went around talk­ing to peo­ple,” Coombs ex­plained. “I re­ceived some re­ally good ideas from them that I was hop­ing to bring back to coun­cil.”

Un­for­tu­nately, Coombs con­tin­ued, he was hear­ing the word “change.”

“I kept hear­ing change, change, change,” he said.

Coombs re­ferred to it as the “change cam­paign,” where some res­i­dents and can­di­dates openly ex­pressed their wants for a dif­fer­ent coun­cil.

So­cial me­dia blew up with ac­tiv­ity when the re­sults were an­nounced.

Res­i­dents posted how ex­cited they were that there was “fi­nally change com­ing to Har­bour Grace,” and that it was “about time.”

Coombs was not sure if this was to re­move him as mayor be­cause he had held the post for 20 years, or if it was the re­sult of a big­ger plan to start over with a new group.

Af­ter Barnes heard he would be the next mayor, he said he was too over­whelmed and did not quite know how he was feel­ing yet.

“I’d like to thank the peo­ple of Har­bour Grace for the sup­port,” he said. That was all he could get out.

Noth­ing per­sonal

Coombs was not vis­i­bly up­set about los­ing the mayor’s race, but still said he would have loved to be the mayor again.

“I’ve met some great peo­ple in this po­si­tion, in­clud­ing prime min­is­ters, MHAs, other may­ors,” he ex­plained. “I be­lieve I rep­re­sented the town to the best of my abil­ity.”

“I leave to­day with $600,000 in the town’s ac­count. I would per­son­ally like to see $600,000 in there this time next year.”

Coombs de­scribed the loss as “noth­ing per­sonal.”

“It is what it is,” he said. “I’ll fi­nal- ly get to take some hol­i­days. For 18 years I have been in touch with the coun­cil of­fice ev­ery day.”

He ad­mit­ted it will be an ad­just­ment not be­ing mayor any­more.

“When­ever I at­tended events I was pre­sented as the mayor of Har­bour Grace,” he said. “In fact, my (daugh­ters) have al­ways known me as the mayor. This will not be the last of Don Coombs.”

Coombs does, how­ever, ac­knowl­edge the ex­cel­lent job he be­lieves the for­mer coun­cil has done.

“I am re­ally proud to have worked with such a great group.”

Big change in cham­ber

For­mer coun­cil­lors Joan Short, who re­ceived 591 votes, David Mur­phy (481), Wen­dell Hunt Sr. (395) and Al­bert “Bud” Chafe (358), did not have enough votes to hold their seats.

Those that will sit on coun­cil for the next four years with Barnes and Wil­liams are new­com­ers Gord Stone (942), Hay­ward Blake (915) and Tony McCarthy (914), as well as for­mer deputy mayor Kathy Tet­ford (655) and for­mer coun­cil­lor Pa­trick Haire (880).

Tet­ford lost a pre­vi­ous mayor’s race to Coombs in the 2009 elec­tion, while Haire moved back from Al­berta with his fam­ily three years ago.

It is tra­di­tion for the can­di­date with the high­est num­ber of votes to take the deputy mayor’s po­si­tion, but it will not be de­ter­mined un­til the first coun­cil meet­ing next month. The date has not been de­ter­mined yet.

Oth­ers on the bal­lot were Mary Shute (634), Ann Coombs (559), Paul Kennedy (478), Shawn Vaters (382) and Mary Cor­nish-Hav­mand (149).

With the lack of coun­cil ex­pe­ri­ence with a ma­jor­ity of the new mem­bers, Coombs has al­ready of­fered his ex­pe­ri­ence up to those who are will­ing to ask.

“If any of them need to ask any­thing, I am avail­able to share my knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence,” Coombs ex­plained. “I have a love for the town and the whole re­gion, and I will en­joy help­ing out here as long as I am wel­come.”

Photo by Melissa Jenk­ins/ Spe­cial to The Com­pass

Terry Barnes was elected mayor of Har­bour Grace in a close race, tak­ing the win by only 70 votes.

Com­pass file photo

Don Coombs will no longer sit in the mayor’s chair af­ter los­ing the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion Sept. 24.

Photo by Terry Roberts/the Com­pass

BAL­LOTS FOR THE BOX — Muriel Hutch­ings drops her bal­lots in the box at a polling sta­tion in Spa­niard’s Bay on the af­ter­noon of Sept. 24. At right is Jessie Neil, deputy re­turn­ing of­fi­cer for the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion. Hutch­ings was among the more than 1,200 cit­i­zens who voted in last week’s elec­tion.

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