Court rul­ing a wakeup call

Wit­less Bay case shows need to re­vamp prov­ince’s mu­nic­i­pal leg­is­la­tion, Lorna Yard says

The Western Star - - Close To Home - BY GLEN WHIFFEN

A New­found­land Supreme Court de­ci­sion that found the deputy mayor of Wit­less Bay had faked his res­i­dency prior to the nom­i­na­tion dead­line for a fall 2016 by­elec­tion should be a wakeup call to the De­part­ment of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs and En­vi­ron­ment, says the wo­man who started the case.

Lorna Yard said the case shows that mu­nic­i­pal leg­is­la­tion in the prov­ince is out­dated and needs to be re­vamped.

“How do you ex­pect peo­ple to have any faith in mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment if some­one can just walk in with a P.O. box and a light bill and say, ‘OK, I’m go­ing to run,’” Yard said. “The Mu­nic­i­pal Elec­tions Act is very vague, its pow­ers very broad reach­ing, and staff and coun­cil­lors are not get­ting a whole lot of sup­port. It’s a dif­fer­ent time now than when these towns were in­cor­po­rated in 1986. The towns are big­ger, bud­gets are big­ger, the con­sid­er­a­tions are def­i­nitely more com­pli­cated.

“I would say that this court case, hope­fully, shows that we need a com­plete re­vamp of that act and of how Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs in­ter­acts with towns.”

The court case cen­tred around the Wit­less Bay by­elec­tion held last fall to fill two empty seats on the town coun­cil. South­ern Shore busi­ness­man and devel­oper Fraser Paul filed nom­i­na­tion pa­pers on Sept. 27, 2016 in which he claimed he had resided in the town at 104 Gal­lows Cove Rd. for at least the 30-day pe­riod re­quired un­der the Mu­nic­i­pal Elec­tions Act.

Yard, who lives on Gal­lows Cove Road, said the house Paul claimed to be liv­ing in at the time was va­cant and there was never any ac­tiv­ity that in­di­cated it was oc­cu­pied. She de­cided to chal­lenge Paul in court on his res­i­dency claims.

The case drew sev­eral Wit­ness Bay and area res­i­dents into court. Many who lived on Gal­lows Cove Road tes­ti­fied to never see­ing any ac­tiv­ity at No. 104, while other wit­nesses tes­ti­fied they had vis­ited Paul at the house on oc­ca­sion and be­lieved he lived there.

Power bills, pho­to­graphs and other ev­i­dence was called dur­ing a trial that lasted three days — some­thing pre­sid­ing Jus­tice David Ors­born said went on longer than re­quired.

In his de­ci­sion, Ors­born found that Paul — who by the time of the trial had be­come deputy mayor of Wit­less Bay — had faked his res­i­dency in the town for the 30 days pre­ced­ing the nom­i­na­tion day of Sept. 27. He noted the ev­i­dence of the Yard wit­nesses was “com­pre­hen­sive, con­sis­tent and in ac­cor­dance with re­al­ity.”

At­tempts to reach Paul and Wit­less Bay Mayor Mau­reen Mur­phy were un­suc­cess­ful Tues­day.

The De­part­ment of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs and En­vi­ron­ment is­sued a state­ment to SaltWire Net­work say­ing the de­part­ment will work with the De­part­ment of Jus­tice and Pub­lic Safety to de­ter­mine the im­pli­ca­tions of the rul­ing.

“This is the first case where a res­i­dent of a com­mu­nity 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 stated.

SaltWire Net­work could not de­ter­mine Tues­day if Paul will step down or be re­moved from the Wit­less Bay town coun­cil as a re­sult of the court de­ci­sion. Should Paul no longer be a mem­ber of the town coun­cil, it will leave only four mem­bers — the coun­cil was re­duced from seven to five mem­bers some months ago when the then-mayor and deputy mayor re­signed.

The De­part­ment of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs and En­vi­ron­ment said that even with just four mem­bers on coun­cil, “the town coun­cil would still con­sti­tute a quo­rum, al­low­ing it to con­tinue to func­tion.”

Since April, how­ever, the Wit­less Bay town coun­cil has had trou­ble car­ry­ing on busi­ness, as many meet­ings had to be can­celled due to a lack of quo­rum.

Mur­phy has apol­o­gized to res­i­dents for not be­ing able to pro­ceed with ap­pli­ca­tions for such things as per­mits and other town busi­ness.

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