Bay Bulls council set to meet for first time in nine weeks

     It looks like Bay Bulls council will meet for the first time in nine weeks next week without having resolved any of the conflict of interest allegations levelled against three different councillors.
     The public meeting scheduled for September 14, if it goes ahead, will mark the first time council has met since July 13, when unexpected allegations of conflict of interest came to light against councillors Jason Sullivan and Joan Luby.
     Sullivan is accused of breaking conflict of interest rules by land developer Martina Aylward, who claims Sullivan voted on development applications even though he is a developer himself.
Sullivan, meanwhile, is the accuser in an earlier conflict of interest allegation levelled against Deputy Mayor Harold Mullowney. Sullivan claimed in a letter to council this past spring that Mullowney is a competing developer and should not have participated in a council discussion regarding Sullivan’s application to develop a 37 acre subdivision in Bay Bulls. Mullowney has denied the allegation and said Sullivan is misconstruing his application for a small parcel of Crown Land. Sullivan’s move against Mullowney was kept off the public agenda until this past summer when the Irish Loop Post learned of it and published details about it.
     The allegation against councillor Luby, by a developer applying to build a subdivision in the town, contends she discussed a development application belonging to her sister-in-law. Luby, who was elected in a by-election earlier this year, maintains the incident happened during her first night on council and that she didn’t know who was behind the application when the discussion started. Luby pointed out that unlike the other councillors in attendance, she was not provided with a detailed agenda and briefing book until she was sworn in at the meeting and so she had no time to prepare for any of the discussions.
     All three matters were expected to be addressed at the August 10 public meeting of council, but the meeting was cancelled at the last minute when councillors Sullivan, Rick Oxford and Gerard Mulcahy indicated they were unavailable to attend.
     Mayor Patrick O’Driscoll did not respond to a request for an interview this week.
When contacted, Deputy Mayor Mullowney said no ‘Friendly Hearings’ have been held by council to discuss any of the allegations, as is required under the Municipalities Act when conflict of interest charges are made.
     “All I’ve heard is that they’ve sent it all off to legal again and the lawyers were supposed to meet with council to give them some indication of what was on the go – that meeting was supposed to happen last month, however the lawyers went on holiday as far as I understand, and were supposed to be back around mid-August, but I haven’t heard anything regarding a meeting,” Mullowney said. “So I don’t exactly know where it is right now.”
     If the Town has obtained a another legal opinion it will be the third one requested by the mayor and council in regard to the allegation against Mullowney. In the first opinion, the lawyer reportedly sided with Sullivan’s allegation against the Deputy Mayor, but after hearing from Mullowney himself, issued a second opinion opposite to his first finding. Mullowney has contended that Sullivan’s allegation is frivolous and that council is wasting money by hiring lawyers to entertain it.
     Mullowney said he has since been contacted by a couple of councillors who are backpedalling and claiming their move against him was blown out of proportion. “I said nothing was blown out of proportion by me,” he noted.
     Mullowney said he expects at some point he will be given a Friendly Hearing and despite any legal recommendation that he is not guilty, a majority of council can still vote to vacate his seat anyway. “If people want to, they can disregard the legal opinion,” he said. “So I’m waiting to see where that goes. I’ve been told by a number of individuals that they don’t see any conflict in my case and I don’t see it there, but at the end of the day it still comes down to a vote of council.”
     The longest serving member of council added he is still working to fulfill his duties but he has a sense council itself is drifting. “There was no meeting last month and they didn’t set a date for a follow-up meeting, so I’m assuming now we’ll have one this month,” he said.
Mullowney acknowledged the Department of Municipal Affairs hasn’t done much to help the town resolve the situation. “Municipal Affairs generally wipes their hands of a lot of this saying there is a mechanism and procedure to be followed, but they don’t seem to really want to get involved too much,” he said. “But I agree there needs to be a greater role and presence (by the department). This situation is going to become more prevalent I think as development picks up in the Northeast Avalon and unless you have mechanisms to deal with it properly it is just going to continue to fester.”
     If the regular public council meeting does go ahead next week, a number of items have been added to the agenda by councillor Luby that may generate their own share of debate. Luby confirmed Tuesday she intends to question why council adjourns so often in the middle of public meetings to hold unscheduled privileged sessions, as well as seek clarification on council’s policy regarding the use of cel phones and texting devices by councillors during public meetings. Luby said she has observed some members of council texting during debates, including occasions when one councillor is outside of the chamber because of a declared conflict of interest.

Posted on September 11, 2015 .