Witless Bay council imbroglio heads to court

A Supreme Court Justice refused last week to consider an application from two former members of Witless Bay council who asked the court to order the Town to cover the costs of their effort to gain their seats back.

Wife and husband pair Dena Wiseman and Ralph Carey are seeking $500 to defray the legal costs of their appeal of council’s decision to vacate their seats over conflict of interest allegations. But Mr. Justice David Hurley wouldn’t consider the application because the Town had not been served notice of it. He set the matter over until such time as the Town has been notified of the application by Wiseman’s and Carey’s lawyer and has a chance to consider a response.

In an interview after the print edition of the Irish Loop Post went to press yesterday, the lawyer for Wiseman and Carey, Annette Conway of Curtis Dawe, explained the Town was not notified of the Interlocutory Application because it isn’t clear in the Municipalities Act that such notice is necessary.

“The Act requires that you make an application to the court for an order with respect to the costs of the Appeal and to have it set down,” Conway said, explaining why the two former councillors requested coverage of their legal costs before the Appeal itself was heard.

Meanwhile, Wiseman’s and Carey’s Notice of Appeal challenging their firing was registered with the court on August 3. To date, there has been no official response or Statement of Defence filed by the Town. When contacted by e-mail on Monday, Mayor Sébastien Després said council would meet on the matter this week. “Until then, I am unable to comment, since this is a matter before the courts,” he said.

Council voted to dismiss Wiseman and Carey at a special public meeting on June 23. The decision was ratified at the following regular public council meeting on July 14. It marked the apparent culmination of a nearly year-long controversy during which the Department of Municipal Affairs instructed council, on at least three different occasions, to deal quickly with allegations of conflict of interest involving the pair. However, council, led by Dépres and Wiseman, delayed for months the holding of a by-election which was required in order to have a quorum to deal with the allegations. It was only after two new councillors were elected, and after much wrangling between them, the mayor and Wiseman and Carey, that the matter was finally decided with the latter pair being evicted for allegedly contravening the conflict of interest provisions of the Municipalities Act by discussing snow clearing on a private road abutting their property.

In their appeal, Wiseman and Carey admit they did participate in a discussion involving snow clearing on Pond Path, but they maintain it was not during a formal council meeting. “The discussion was informal and took place with the intention of wording the snow clearing contract before presenting it in a public meeting,” said their lawyer, Annette Conway in the filing with the court.

Conway is claiming Wiseman and Carey were performing in their capacities as councillors representing the interests of all citizens during the discussion and not their own interests.

The pair is blaming the rest of council for failing to raise the issue of conflict of interest at the time, though Mayor Dépres did have the Town Clerk notify the Department of Municipal Affairs about his concerns the day after the September 16, 2014 meeting. “Had the issue been raised, the Appellants would have excused themselves from any discussion in relation to the issue,” Conway wrote.

Despite that, Wiseman and Carey are denying they broke the conflict of interest rules and are also claiming unfair treatment by the rest of council. They maintain they were given no documentation “explicitly setting out” the details of the allegations against them, and that they were not given enough notice to adequately prepare a defence for a Friendly Hearing on the charges held on April 21 this year.

Wiseman and Carey claim the “conduct of the Town council has been arbitrary, high-handed and capricious,” and that the matter “has been unduly delayed and subject to severe mishandling.” They also maintain some councillors have shown “antagonistic behaviour” towards them.

There is no mention in the Notice of the other conflict of interest allegation that has been levelled at Wiseman and Carey by developers and land owners in Witless Bay, that they voted on the proposed Town Plan which would rezone their property on Pond Path to allow for residential subdivision development while also moving to limit development in other parts of the town.

Posted on August 25, 2015 .