MHA gives constituents something to think about

Whoever wrote the letter for Keith Hutchings to Witless Bay council did a skillful job of making the minister of Municipal Affairs sound tough, while actually doing nothing to rectify a situation that has plagued the town for the past year.
Rather than make the mayor and council deal with two alleged cases of conflict of interest in a transparent and accountable way, Hutchings has approved a process that raises more questions than provides answers. And he has done so while giving false hope to some citizens and developers who were led to believe he was going to be forceful in holding council to account.
The outcome of the letter was so skillfully disguised, in fact, that when it was first delivered to council, those who have been most detrimentally affected by last minute changes to the Town Plan made by Mayor Sébastien Deprés and councillors Dena Wiseman and Ralph Carey, actually thought Hutchings was ordering council to retake the vote on the conflict of interest allegations.
Not so. Instead, a careful parsing of the letter, and followup e-mails to his staff,  confirm Hutchings has accepted the mayor’s claim that council cleared Wiseman and Carey during a vote conducted in a private meeting. That vote is problematic for several reasons, not the least of which was that it was done behind closed doors and not ratified during a public session. A rumour has arisen that at least one councillor who voted to clear Carey and Wiseman thought he was voting to do the opposite, while another councillor has publicly challenged the outcome of the vote and has called for a ‘Friendly Hearing’ for the two councillors as is spelled out in the Municipalities Act. The bottom line is that the circumstances of the vote – how it was conducted, who set the ground rules, how the motion was worded, who else spoke to council in the moments prior to the vote – are unclear and clarity in such a matter should be a first order of business.
Hutchings’ failure to ensure the matters were disposed of in a transparent and accountable way is all the more disappointing given that Witless Bay is one of the principal towns in his district. If the local MHA, who happens to be the minister responsible for enforcing the Municipalities Act, won’t ensure a proper job for these constituents, what can the rest of the people in the district expect?
This failure to maintain open and accountable government at the municipal level is the latest in a string of incompetent and damaging moves by the current government. It was one of Hutchings’ predecessors in the portfolio, Kevin O’Brien, who messed up the wording of a departmental directive to the Town of Witless Bay regarding the controversy at Ragged Beach. That boner, whether deliberate or a genuine mistake, led in part to the situation still bedeviling the council. As a result, development throughout the town is held up. One contractor estimates the town is losing out on some $200,000 a year in residential taxes from his long delayed subdivision alone.
It was the PC regimes of Danny Williams, Kathy Dunderdale and now Paul Davis, who changed the rules and set a tone of government secrecy for councils to emulate. Town councils are far less open and transparent than they used to be. It’s gotten to the point that councils no longer identify applicants who are seeking development permits on the public agenda. In effect, the province, acting through municipalities, has trampled on the right of citizens to know what is going on in their communities and who is doing it.
It’s unclear that a Liberal or New Democratic administration would do any better when it comes to ensuring openness and accountability on the part of town councils. But it’s hard to imagine they could do worse. The last 12 years of government has been one constant attack on the public’s right to know. The citizens of Witless Bay in particular and Ferryland District in general should weigh the negative impact of that when they go to the polls this fall.
By failing to make sure the council in Witless Bay followed the rules in a timely, accountable and transparent way, the local MHA has given his constituents something to think about.
Much Deserved
On a happier note, and concerning a fellow who doesn’t shrink from his duty, it was heartwarming last month to hear that Ken Williams was being inducted into Newfoundland’s Hockey Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony occurred this past weekend. It’s no exaggeration to say Williams is as much responsible for the Southern Shore Breakers’ storied history in senior hockey as any of the players who ever laced up a skate. Williams has kept not only the team, but also the rink in Mobile alive and open through thick and thin and helped ensure the operation of an important facility for the whole region. On top of all that, he is one of the wittiest and smartest fellows around and a joy to know. Well done Ken Williams.
 So long Joe Croft
One of the privileges of publishing this newspaper is that you get to meet, and in some cases know, many people in the Goulds, the Southern Shore and St. Mary’s Bay. A highlight is delivery day, when you get to stop at all the stores along the route. That often entails a quick chat with some of the operators. All those weeks that I’ve delivered the paper over the past eight years, and for the three years in the late 1990s when I published The Southern Post, included a call at Joe Croft’s store in Aquaforte.
Almost always, Joe was there. A man who had a keen interest in life around him, Joe could fill you in on how the fishery was going, local history, or anything else in the area.
Joe passed away suddenly last week. Perhaps appropriately, he died in the store. Joe Croft was a gentleman and a good businessman who, with his wife Carmel, managed to keep a store going in thin times and full in a small community. That’s not an easy accomplishment. Joe will be sorely  missed by his family but also by all us regulars who called at the shop.

Posted on June 24, 2015 .