Salmon Fest fallout

Randy Edison
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Province asked to review Grand Falls-Windsor council’s actions

The Department of Municipal Affairs has been asked to investigate Grand Falls-Windsor council’s handling of a private vote to continue with the Salmon Festival despite advice to pull the plug.

Information uncovered via a freedom of information request earlier this month revealed that council voted 4-3 in favour of continuing with the 2015 Exploits Valley Salmon Festival in May, even though the promoter and senior management suggested pulling the plug and cutting losses.

In a subsequent interview with The Advertiser, festival committee chairman Coun. Darren Finn said there was a decision made to keep the minutes of the committee of the whole meeting where that vote took place from being tabled at the next public council meeting.

Grand Falls-Windsor resident Dave Barker has written to the Department of Municipal Affairs regional manager to ask for an investigation of the way council handled the matter, specifically in relation to the decision to not allow the minutes to be made public.

“I am asking Municipal Affairs NL to launch an investigation into the Grand Falls-Windsor town council for violating S. 213 of the Municipality Act 1999,” Barker wrote in a letter to the department’s regional manager, Edison Goodyear.

Barker provided The Advertiser with a copy of the letter.

“At a committee meeting held in May 2015, the committee voted four to three in favour of holding the 2015 Salmon Festival. According to Part 3 of S. 213 of the act, in order for the vote to be valid, it had to be done at a public meeting (regular council meeting) … which it wasn’t,” the letter continued. “I want Municipal Affairs to look into this matter.”

Goodyear was away from his office and could not be reached for comment.

Department communications personnel said they could not comment on Barker’s request.

However, in an emailed statement to The Advertiser, communications director Kevin Guest wrote, “… the Municipalities Act, 1999, states that decisions of councillors made at a privileged meeting are not valid until they have been ratified by a vote of the councillors at a public meeting. However, the legislation is silent on when that vote at a public meeting has to be held.

“In saying that, a particular council may have their own rules and regulations which indicate when the vote has to be held,” the email added.

Mayor Barry Manuel said he is uncertain whether the town had any such rule or regulation, but he defended the actions of council in not allowing the result to go public.

“There was no change of direction,” Manuel said, mirroring the statements made by Finn. “We were still having a concert and if we did make it public, it would have become an issue and been detrimental to the opportunity.

“It’s like any business arrangement, there are sometimes certain details that aren’t made public because it could jeopardize the deal. The publicity would have been negative and in council decisions the majority rules, so we were moving forward. I’m not arguing the technicalities of it, but the concert was still going ahead.”

The Advertiser

Organizations: Grand Falls-Windsor town council, Department of Municipal Affairs

Geographic location: Grand Falls

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Recent comments

  • steve
    January 03, 2016 - 11:36

    Politicans are all tarred with the same slimy brush,no matter it be municipal ,provincial or federal or what party.99 percent of politicans make the other 1 percent look bad. Not a typo.

  • Maggy Carter
    January 03, 2016 - 00:29

    Although unimpressed by council's decision making throughout the Salmon Fest debacle, there is no smoking gun here. The decision made in private was superfluous. It was one thing to discuss the case for bailing; the mistake was on the part of the majority opposed to cancelling it. They should not have given consent to making it a voting matter. It would not have come to a vote and hence there would have been no need to affirm it again in public. I don't believe in hanging someone for a procedural error. The bigger lesson here is for those who take the public and the taxpayer for granted. That happened in 2013 when Salmon Fest failed to provide the basic amenities and safeguards to which patrons were entitled. So aggrieved were its fans that Grand Falls lost a very valuable franchise and, as markets are wont to do, others moved in to fill the void. Quite sad really because the notion of something big happening every summer in the centre of the island had a lot to recommend it. It meant, among other things, that St. John's didn't always have to be the centre of the universe. It raises one more question - whether cities or towns in this province should have the legislated authority to take what are essentially large commercial risks on behalf of their citizens. Not to dwell too much on Grand Falls. Is there any objective person out there, for example, who still believes St. John's should have turned our 'Memorial' to fallen soldiers into a grocery store? Should it have spent $20 plus million on a commercial venture that had no prospect of supporting itself and that would need year after year subsidies from taxpayers? I think not. Abuse of the public purse is a plague we see at all levels of government. Provincially we are facing a tsunami of fiscal and economic grief for exactly the same reason. So pernicious the tendency to overreach, that Trudeau and Ball should be looking at reforms to curb the rampant abuse of power in their respective jurisdictions. At the very least the law should require a referendum for launching great white elephants.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    January 02, 2016 - 12:27

    “Like any other business arrangement”?? What kind of daft arrogance prompted that remark? The difference, Mayor Manuel, is that it wasn’t your own money you foolishly put at risk and consequently pissed away, contrary to the advice of both the concert promotor and your senior management. Rather, your costly blunder was financed using money that belongs to the taxpayers of GF-W, of which council was entrusted to custodian wisely. And now it appears this council may be complicit in some kind of half-assed cover-up after the fact by attempting to suppress information about the vote to spend these municipal funds on such a risky venture despite knowledgeable advice otherwise? Astounding. Mr. Barker is quite right to request the Dept of Municipal Affairs to investigate the disturbing actions of this council.

  • Look Deeper
    January 02, 2016 - 09:32

    Is anyone gullible enough to think the Dept of Municipal Affairs will investigate former Mayor and announced Liberal candidate Al Hawkins for any wrongdoing? He didn't want any bad news leading into the election so they let the doomed concert go ahead and ask forgiveness later to the tune of 700 thousand dollars of municipal tax dollars wasted.

  • rod
    January 02, 2016 - 07:46

    There has to be some accountability when public money is gambled in this way. For this council to ignore advice from the promoter to pull the plug and go ahead anyway is irresponsible. Maybe these 4 people who voted to go ahead with it should be held responsible for the losses. Or at least be booted from council.