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Tensions flare up at Harbour Grace council meeting over committees

Coun. Kathy Tetford (left) made a motion Monday night for Mayor Don Coombs to meet with Moore's Ambulance Services.
Coun. Kathy Tetford (left) and Harbour Grace Mayor Don Coombs. - File photos

HARBOUR GRACE, N.L.

There was some heated debate in the Harbour Grace council chambers Monday night, Feb. 11, over committees of council.

The matter first came to a head after Deputy Mayor Sonia Williams introduced a motion to approve some immediate changes to the committees council members serve on, handling out a sheet to fellow council members with the changes. This did not sit well with Mayor Don Coombs, who insisted it is traditionally the mayor’s duty to determine who sits on any given committee.

“I put together the council committees … for different reasons — to give people experience on council and give some other people opportunities,” he said. “And in the history of the Town of Harbour Grace, it’s been appointed by the mayor.”

Williams subsequently cited section 25 of the province’s Municipalities Act, which states a town council can appoint persons to a committee previously established by council.

Coun. Lyda Byrne had introduced a motion at a previous meeting requesting a change in membership to give councillors an opportunity to become familiar with other aspects of the town’s affairs.

The mayor indicated that since the current council was formed in the fall of 2017, some committees have failed to meet, and said there are outstanding issues facing the town as a result. Coombs later mentioned in the meeting he would check the town’s policy on councillors continuing to receive remuneration in the event they fail to hold committee meetings.

Coun. Kathy Tetford said there are many ways committees can meet these days.

“I beg to differ,” she said, responding to the mayor’s words. “When we meet as a committee or we meet by email or we meet with technology, you haven’t got to be in a place to meet or have a meeting to discuss something. As for remuneration and making that threat about remuneration, the policy is …”

“You attend one meeting a month,” the deputy mayor chimed in, to which Tetford agreed.

Committee talk heated up again towards the end of the meeting when Tetford introduced a motion to form a new steering committee to work on a five-year plan to promote economic growth in the community linked to Harbour Grace’s heritage appeal. The committee — called the Harbour Grace Board of Culture, Innovation and Business — would seek applications from residents and include Tetford, the deputy mayor and the town’s economic development officer as council liaisons. She also said it would become an incorporated committee.

After Tetford introduced the motion to form this committee, Mayor Coombs questioned its necessity to exist, noting this type of work was already being handled by the economic development, tourism and heritage committee, which Coun. Kevin Williams had most recently served on as a liaison for council. He added that committee has already attracted $1 million in funding support for the town. The latter committee had previously come to the council requesting to incorporate — a request council unanimously denied.

Tetford noted she had attended recent workshops in Harbour Grace spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. She could not say for certain if members of the economic development, tourism and heritage committee were also in attendance, adding she does not know who is on that committee.

When the mayor subsequently put the motion to the floor and referred to the steering committee looking after “heritage and something,” Tetford said he was showing disrespect to the motion and asked for an apology. Coombs declined to do so.

Both motions at the meeting were passed by an identical 4-2 margin, with Councillors Byrne, Tetford and Shawn Vaters and Deputy Mayor Williams supporting them and the mayor and Coun. Williams offering dissenting votes. Coun. Paul Fitzgerald was not in attendance due to a work commitment, according to the mayor.

editor@cbncompass.ca

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