Councillor given ultimatum to attend 'Friendly Hearing'

     Witless Bay councillor Kevin Smart has been given a final ultimatum by most of his fellow councillors: Show up to the next 'Friendly Hearing' concerning an alleged conflict of interest or be fired from council.
     The move came in the form of a motion by councillor Ken Brinston. Since being elected in a by-election this past February, he has been trying to get council to deal with the various natters of alleged conflict of interest that have been dogging the town's business for more than a year.
     Smart was accused by developers and private land owners of violating conflict of interest guidelines when he voted to amend the proposed Town Plan and eventually adopt the document in full. They contend he was in a conflict of interest because the plan rezones some property he owns allowing it to be developed for housing. Smart has maintained that he made no request to have his land rezoned and so he did not break the rules.
     Councillor René Estrada expressed frustration at the way the matter has dragged on.
     "One of the things we have to take into consideration is the advisement from our lawyer," said Estrada. "Kevin was asked to attend a Friendly Hearing on four different occasions. The first time on Tuesday, August 4, he didn't show. On Thursday, August 18, once again he did not show. On September 3, neither he attended, nor the mayor. September 22 neither the mayor nor Kevin showed. Under advisement from the lawyer we were told to give Kevin one last opportunity to show at a Friendly Hearing... If he does not show then his seat will be vacated."
     Estrada said Smart's failure to show up has put an imposition on the rest of council. "I have come right from work, left early, to be here for these Friendly Hearings only to find out that he hasn't shown," he said. "Now whatever we may think, or whatever we may decide, will be decided on fact, not on emotion."
     Brinston pointed out that at a September 15 privileged meeting, a similar motion was passed and added he was prepared tonight to vote on the matter. Brinston said he changed his mind after contacting an official at the Department of Municipal Affairs who advised that because Smart wasn't informed that council was ready to dispose of the matter at its next meeting whether he showed up or not, "it would be in the best interests to give him one more try. This is one more try."
     Smart sat in his chair throughout the discussion and did not comment. When it came to the vote on setting a date for his next Friendly Hearing, Mayor Sébastien Després told him to leave the room. That hearing will be held Oct. 22. Smart will be sent a letter advising him of the date and that his seat will be vacated if he doesn't attend.
     "This has gone on long enough," said Brinston. "It has to be taken care of. A decision has to be made."
     Meanwhile, on another issue of alleged conflict of interest, which saw husband and wife councillors Ralph Carey and Dena Wiseman booted from council this past summer, Mayor Després said the town has not heard back from its lawyer regarding the pair's appeal of their eviction.
     Wiseman and Carey are looking for an apology from council and to be given their seats back, arguing that while they did discuss snow clearing on a private road leading to their property, it was not during a formal council meeting and so they did not break conflict of interest rules. The road in question, Pond Path, leads to property that Wiseman and Carey are having rezoned for residential development in the new Town Plan.
     "The town's lawyer was away for a week or so, so no progress was made in the past week," the mayor said. "We're waiting on the town's lawyer for his further directives after council has given him its decision, I guess."

Posted on October 14, 2015 .