Municipal mayhem in Harbour Grace
Mayor asked to resign for not following due process, says councillor
We are put there by the people to make decisions, and hopefully it will be in the best interest of the town. But not everyone will be happy with every decision.
— Sonia Williams
An outspoken Harbour Grace councillor is not backing down from his request for Mayor Terry Barnes to relinquish the town’s top elected post.
During a meeting with The Compass last week, Gord Stone took responsibility for asking Barnes to resign during a privileged meeting Jan. 28 due to “protocol” issues.
“It’s the lack of due process (within council) that has caused concerns,” he stated.
The position of chief administrative officer in the town was left vacant Jan. 22 after a newly hired employee resigned.
Stone explained a letter was faxed to the Department of Municipal Affairs by Barnes, requesting Coun. Kathy Tetford become the acting chief administrative officer while a new one is recruited.
The request, he said, came after a motion was passed at a public meeting ( Jan. 29) to have office worker Sean O’Brien fill in.
Barnes and Tetford refuted the date, saying the fax was sent a week prior to the passed motion.
They explained — during separate interviews Feb. 4 — the fax was not intended to officially place Tetford in the position, but rather to ask permission to bring the idea to council.
Tetford said the plan was to take a leave of absence from council, and work voluntarily.
“The motion was going to be brought to council at that meeting,” Barnes said. “But (other councillors) had it stopped before hand.”
Barnes was referring to councillors Stone, Hayward Blake, Tony McCarthy and Patrick Haire. Messages left by The Compass for Blake, McCarthy and Haire were not returned.
Sources say all four signed and delivered a letter to council requesting a privileged meeting for Jan. 28.
It was in that meeting Stone asked for Barnes’ resignation, but he would not confirm if others agreed.
Not all councillors agreed with Stone’s call for Barnes’ resignation.
Deputy Mayor Sonia Williams said he did nothing to warrant quitting and she will support him.
“There are urgencies where everyone has to make decisions,” she explained. “And sometimes the mayor has to make those decisions in the best interests of the town.” Tetford was not long to follow. “I support Mayor Barnes 100 per cent,” she wrote in a statement. “Much has happened, and to point a finger at Mayor Barnes just to
have someone to blame is disheartening.”
Stone had other reasons
During the Jan. 29 meeting, Stone brought three motions to council, all connected to a staffing crisis the town was facing after the resignations of the CAO, stadium manager, other office staff and the termination of a stadium employee.
The motions were to prompt swift action with hiring new staff, including revisiting the files of previously rejected applications for the CAO and stadium manager positions. The motions passed.
The human resource committee, consisting of Deputy Mayor Sonia Williams (chair), Kathy Tetford and Barnes stated they were blindsided by the motions, and believed they should have been brought to the committee instead of a public meeting.
During a privileged meeting immediately following, Stone said four of six councillors agreed to give at least one applicant an interview for the CAO position. McCarthy declared himself in conflict because the applicant was a relative.
The meeting ended with council leaving the remaining files and interview decisions with the HR committee.
The committee met the following day, and decided to reject all applicants, included the one previously approved for an interview.
Barnes explained the town spent $2,500 on a consulting firm who rejected the files when the position was first posted late last year.
“The consultant had his own reasons for doing this, so why go back and go through the same process this man already did for us?” he continued.
Stone said he received the news through an email from Barnes that the original candidate he believed would get an interview was rejected because it would be a, “waste of time and resources.”
Wanting the same result
Although council members appear to be split, each one who spoke with The Compass said they would like to start acting like a single entity.
“It’s time to get back to the many serious issues this town faces,” Tetford said. “That energy and time would be better spent trying to solve issues, not inventing more.”
Barnes has admitted it’s been difficult coming to an agreement over issues on occasion, but said he wants to ensure the best interests of the people have been followed.
Stone also said he would like to see that happen, noting that is why the council is there, for the people.
Williams added, “We are put there by the people to make decisions, and hopefully it will be in the best interest of the town. But not everyone will be happy with every decision.”
Regardless of the council’s intentions, many residents have been witness to the firestorm of activity on social media about the town and its leaders. Some have even called the group a lost cause.
Tetford admits that the council is not perfect, but hopes to try harder to counter what some may interpret as a loss of confidence in the group.
“We all won’t follow proper protocol at all meetings or the carrying out of business when we get caught up in the passion of the issues and their importance to us as town leaders,” Tetford concluded. “But we certainly have to respect each other and leave meeting debates at meetings and move back out into our town with a united front.”