The Telegram (St. John's)
It’s the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, not the Department of Let’s-just-wait-and-see-what-happens. But perhaps the name change is overdue. A few weeks ago, a Telegram columnist pointed out that, although the department was still assessing the environmental ramifications of a berm being built to protect the Health Sciences Centre from flooding, Eastern Health was starting the berm anyway. Work chugged along, even after the minister ordered additional environmental review. And that’s only the environmental side.
Look at Municipal Affairs: that’s the part of the department that’s supposed to oversee the province’s municipalities.
On its own website, the department says, “The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment strives to ensure that residents live in safe and sustainable communities and are served by open, effective and accountable local governments.”
But recent stories out of Witless Bay make you wonder just how much “striving” and “ensuring” is going on at the department.
First, there’s the situation where the Newfoundland courts overturned the election of the town’s deputy mayor, saying that evidence showed that Fraser Paul hadn’t lived in the town for at least 30 days before a byelection where he won the job. Paul resigned after the verdict.
Now, the council is essentially paralyzed, because there aren’t enough council members showing up at meetings to even have quorum.
Mayor Maureen Murphy wrote in a Facebook post “Regular public monthly council meeting is cancelled for tonight due to lack of quorum. Council needs four councillors to attend in order to have a public meeting. Once again I apologize to all residents who are waiting on permits and other town business. Without a quorum town business is at a standstill.”
The town has suffered through conflict of interest charges, battles over development, battles over a municipal plan, and the list goes on. On April 28 of this year, then-deputy mayor Dena Wiseman resigned and on May 4 then-mayor Sebastien Despres resigned.
The department’s response so far? Essentially, “Wow, that’s never happened before.”
It says it’s reviewing the situation and this is the “first known case where a councillor has been deemed to have not been a resident for 30 days preceding nomination, yet still was elected and carried out duties on council.” The department is also reviewing council’s inability to meet, although the department basically says that, since there are enough councillors left for quorum, it’s not really the department’s problem. If there were too few councillors, the department would be able to appoint more.
Well, reviewing is just great.
But items like patching roads, paying town debts and requests for some permits aren’t being dealt with, as the provincial department fiddles and the summer heat — and the tempers of Witless Bay citizens — burns.
Certainly, the department can find a way to do something.