‘Vacuum of leadership’: St. John’s councillor

Daniel MacEachern
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Bureaucrats, not elected council members, run city hall, Coun. Art Puddister says

St. John’s city councillors chose their words carefully Tuesday when asked about the subject of an upcoming private meeting, but Coun. Art Puddister was blunt: “There is certainly a vacuum of leadership.”

Art Puddister.

The councillor said bureaucrats are running city hall.

“We have a bureaucracy that is extremely strong and we have a council that’s extremely weak, and it’s up to the elected representatives of the people, city council, to be setting policy and for the staff, the bureaucrats, to be carrying policy out,” he said. “That’s not what’s taking place. Right now we seem to have a situation whereby the bureaucrats are setting policy, and I think that’s wrong.”

Puddister said there wasn’t enough council discussion of the budget before it was passed.

“We had one meeting which lasted 90 minutes, and I asked two days later for the mayor to have another meeting to continue to work on the budget to get the expenses down and to get the mill rates down, and he refused. He said the budget was done, the mill rates had been passed at a special meeting of council.”

Mayor Dennis O’Keefe rejected the suggestion that Sunday afternoon’s meeting is a forum on his leadership, saying it’s about council members putting all their issues on the table.

“This is a meeting that all of council agreed to and wanted to have, and the purpose was to find ways to move forward and get beyond some of the issues that are dividing councillors. It’s as simple as that,” O’Keefe said. “It’s unfortunate that it was leaked, and a leadership twist put on it. The meeting was supposed to be private and confidential, just 10 individuals sitting down, hammering out any differences they might have, and moving forward from there.”

O’Keefe said he wouldn’t get into which particular issues are dividing council, characterizing it as 10 personalities clashing, causing “division and dissension.”

“It’s time to move beyond that,” he said. “In the past two and a half years, this has been a good council. We’ve made some very positive decisions — financial ones, economic ones, planning ones, budget decisions — we’ve moved the city forward a great deal in the last two and a half years, and I guess the trigger for some of these clashes in the past short while has centred on the budget and has gone on from there.”

Coun. Jonathan Galgay said he expects the main topics to be fallout over the budget and the mayor’s leadership.

“It’s a discussion that has to be had,” Galgay said. “We need to talk about having a strong leader who’s going to be able to bring us through these issues collectively. We’ve had some challenges as a council — they didn’t come up just since the budget. They’ve been ongoing since the election.”

Other councillors were more circumspect about the meeting:

• Coun. Tom Hann: “There has been some dysfunctionality among council, somewhat divided, and that’s been evident in what’s been happening over the last six to eight weeks, and council has been under a signficant amount of pressure, and that causes problems as well. So I guess the main reason for the meeting is to get in the room and put that all on the table, and solve the problem and come out as a full team, because I have concerns we’re not doing a proper job for the city.”

• Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth: “We as a group certainly have been having challenges functioning as a group. For me, it’s an opportunity for us to sit as a group, to have frank and open discussions about any and all concerns that each one of us has individually. … It’s about us as council, it’s about us having to get better, and we have to do better than we have been doing.”

• Coun. Sandy Hickman: “It’s something that I’ve been espousing for a long time, that council should get together as a committee of the whole and get together and just talk as a group of people about issues.”

• Coun. Dave Lane: “After the vote around the budget, where not everybody agreed to it, and then we started making decisions, which threw doubt into whether or not we’re all together in terms of how we’re running this city, several of us have been calling to come together and just talk it all out, and we don’t really get an opportunity to do that as a group of councillors. So from my perspective, that’s all it is.”

Coun. Bruce Tilley declined to comment at all.

“I don’t speak to any leaks whatsoever,” he said.


dmaceachern@thetelegram.com, Twitter: @DanMacEachern

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Recent comments

  • Randy
    February 11, 2016 - 05:37

    Maybe Art Puddister shouldn't be leaking every piece of confidential information he gets his hands on?

  • FED UP citizen
    February 10, 2016 - 22:04

    Dear Minister Eddy Joyce oh where have you been hiding at. The last I heard you were made minister of municipal Affairs. When you were in opposition you were not Shy about appearing on Camera. But as a citizen of St.John's, I am wondering were you are in case you don't know or haven't heard of the disfunctional council running the city ,don't you think you should STEP IN AND HELP THE CITIZENS OF ST. JOHN'S deal with these poor excuses of councillors. And Some of these so called private issues at council.Please start and do your Job your getting enough.As I already lost my vote for voting Liberal with all your promises.

  • Totally Fed Up
    February 10, 2016 - 21:42

    Money Money every where for Dennis to spend as Mayor,I have to feed my kids you know next i'll have to find a place to go, I have to put clothing on theirs backs with these tax increases i'll surely have to go on the WACK. i THINK IT'S TIME FOR YOU ALL TO GO, SO WE WON'T HAVE TO PAY FOR ANY MORE SNOW.

  • up she goes
    February 10, 2016 - 21:19

    Vacuum of leadership, DEAR GOD THE LEADER HAS LEFT THE BUILDING. Thank you Mr Puddister for having the foritued and Courage to stand up for the pople who elected you. From what I'm hearing from neighbours and friends YOU VERY WELL MAY BE THE ONLY COUNCILLOR LEFT AT CITY HALL. How Much is this Private meeting costing the TAXPAYERS time and half double time, Mr Puddister let us know you are the only reliable one down there. Mr Galgay your going around like ROCK HUDSON always looking for the camera to get your best side .Well the best side for you is OUTSIDE THE DOORS OF CITY HALL. As a citizen of this city I am totally in disbelief on whats going on down there at city hall. I entrusted the councilors with my vote feeling secure that they would be transparent and good people to run the city,by the time your finished with us we'll have to grow vegetables on our front lawns. Except ART Puddister .RESIGN RESIGN RESIGN ..GET OUT

  • Ed
    February 10, 2016 - 20:40

    I cannot wait for the next election here in St John's so that we can throw all these idiots out. We need an elected council that will run the city not default to the bureaucrats, an elected council that will shrink the size of council to one that we can afford, anything not absolutely necessary should be stopped, anything the private sector can do better or less expensive should be put out on tender. Private meetings except in very rare cases should be done away with and even those few that may be required should have accurate minutes kept which will be released to the public within a reasonable fixed timeframe. Just who the hell do these guys think they are, that the people who elect them and pay their salaries are not entitled to know what the hell they are up to.

  • Jerome
    February 10, 2016 - 18:10

    All taxpayers want is a council that is fiscally responsible, the population of St. John's hasn't changed much over the last 10 years, but the spending has ballooned out of control. Why am I giving this council twice the amount of money/taxes I did 9 years ago. The propose new Mews Center will cost every man, woman and child in this city $500 just to build , that does not include the yearly cost of running and maintaining it. With the expense of everything that has been built by the city in the last number of years can we the taxpayer afford another one. It is great to have a vibrant city, but what is the good of it if your can't afford to live here.

  • Jason Brake
    February 10, 2016 - 17:56

    Here are the facts: The city demands more tax revenue than ever before and our services are cut; this council put us here. The worst budget in St. John's history was prepared by bureaucrats and passed without consultation; this council irresponsibly pushed this through. The council remained quiet for many weeks hoping the noise of the business community would subside because they were embarrassed to go back and rescind yet another aspect of the budget. This council forgot that they are supposed to represent us and not let their egos get in the way. This council is responsible for making St. John's the worst place in this province to conduct business. City Hall, if you can't wake up, resign and let someone else fix your mess. The shops and boutiques of downtown have long been the attraction that tourists cherish. The music, arts, heritage and social culture is the gem of this city and your budget endangers it. The business community is sick of giving and getting nothing in return. Wake up city hall and shake your head. Realize where we are and how you missed something along the way.

  • Bill
    February 10, 2016 - 15:52

    With the level of dysfunction that has emerged, do you really think the 10 of them will all sit completely through a meeting where nobody has a clue what it is about.

  • John
    February 10, 2016 - 14:52

    I don't feel any of the personal should change until the next municipal election. Then I would support big time change. I would like to see Danny Breen go Mayor and Art Puddister go Deputy Mayor. Both bring different approaches to council but both are very honest and open to suggestions. I don't feel young Galgay offers the city anything. He is very egotistical and simply loves himself. Sandy Hickman seems to be a fine gentlemen but he needs to speak out and let the people know his take on issues. Dave Lane lost my support when he flip floped on the budget. Councillor Tiller brings very little to council. Ron Elsworth is a - Wanna be. With regards to the by-election in Ward 4, I think we should show we no longer are going with the old guard and not support Sheilagh O'Leary or Debbie Hanlon. Both of those ladies are to much associates of the old council. In concluding I would like to see only three members of this council get reelected; Danny Breen , Art Puddister and Sandy Hickman and I will finish by thanking Denise O' Keefe for his year's as mayor but your time has ended. Thank you John Rexon

    • Jayne
      February 10, 2016 - 16:43

      That's your opinion Mr. Rexton.......however I totally disagree with your comments on Ward 4. We need a strong, experienced person who can stand her ground against the old boys club, who knows how the City operates, and is confident in opposing those already there......there is only one person for that job. Sheilagh O'Leary. To put a new person in there, they would be walked on, is that what we want????

  • Spaz
    February 10, 2016 - 14:49

    Yes the bureaucrats. Don't forget Danny as well.

  • John Smith
    February 10, 2016 - 14:45

    I'd say a "vacuum" pretty much describes what exists between Doc's ears...

  • Winston Johnson
    February 10, 2016 - 13:17

    I'm with Art Puddister. Keep up the good work.

  • Just Wondering
    February 10, 2016 - 12:29

    Bureaucracy is running the Municipal Govt? Bureaucracy IS Govt! The Council Members, MHA's, and MP's are all come day, go day individuals. Here today and possibly gone by the next election to never be seen again. The staff that is there rain or shine for 25-35 years is your Govt. They are the one's setting policy, or at least coming up with them. The elected officials simply approve a policy into law or by-law. Sort of like a rubber stamp of Yea or Nay. This shouldn't be that big of a Revelation to folks in this day and age.

    • Ed
      February 14, 2016 - 13:49

      It is not, and never has been, the role of the bureaucracy to set policy. It is their role to implement policy set by the elected representatives of the citizens.

  • Sam
    February 10, 2016 - 10:17

    I find Denis O'Keefe comments offensive. How can anyone stand up and pound their chest espousing how wonderful a job we've done given the financial mess we're in. Private and business taxpayers have been taxed way beyond reasonable limits. Council staff salaries are well beyond a reasonable compensation level as compared to comparable positions within our community and to add insult to injury, they just spent $7 million dollars to compensate an early retirement plan for a very small number of staff. The average exceeding $200,000. per person. What a wonderful job you've done Denise. An for those who went along with some of the many financial blunders, shame on you too. Rumor has it that the media is trying to access the details of the severance offers and council is doing everything in it's power to hide the details.Why??????????

  • TJ
    February 10, 2016 - 10:12

    Every election we elect the same old clowns and expect a different outcome. Bruce Tilley has been elected over and over and he's nothing more than a spineless jelly fish. Doc O'keefe - clueless. Galgay - camera whore. We have to find some sensible people that understand that taxes can't continue to rise. But, I am getting the feeling things are about to change and we will soon see a lot of new faces on council and it can't happen too soon.

  • JD
    February 10, 2016 - 09:50

    They seemed OK before but now that the heat is on, there are many of Caesar's trusted readying their knives so to not be included with the overturning.

  • Steve
    February 10, 2016 - 07:48

    This is not to defend O'Keefe in any way, but bear in mind that he is one vote on Council. If Council wanted to do things differently, they can outvote him. O'Keefe has become a lightning rod for what's happening, but all members of Council bear some responsibility. People like Coun. Tilley, for example, shouldn't be allowed to fly under the radar. He supported everything that the Mayor supported, he wont' answer questions and you almost never hear him in the media.

  • Political Watcher
    February 10, 2016 - 06:05

    Too many people forget that Doc was just a "bobble-head" and yes man to former Mayor Wells. He has been a poor Mayor and has little confidence from the public.

  • Bob Hallett
    February 10, 2016 - 05:26

    God, they can't even agree on what they are meeting about. Tilley doesn't even know there is one. Here's a suggestion - debate policy and practice in public at Council meetings. The fact that they cannot, or are afraid to, discuss their own business in public tells you everything you need to know about how messed up this bunch really is. This Council is hopeless, Resign, leave, go away. You have lost it.

    • Jayne
      February 10, 2016 - 13:49

      I couldn't agree more....the whole Council needs to be replaced. I'm hoping the media will uncover the details of the staff's early retirement package for all to see. Shame on them for trying to keep it under wraps.

    • Dave Crosbie
      February 10, 2016 - 14:01

      Its time there was some real change with how this city is run. Its time to look at contracting out the basic city services. Call for proposals and see what comes back. If it can be demonstrated that city employees can perform those services at a competitive cost, great. If not, contract it out and close up the depot. It is the role of the city to make sure garbage gets picked up. It is not necessary that the council does the work themselves. It is the DUTY of council to get these services done in a fiscally responsible manner. Council has to do more than have a 'program review'. Enough is enough.

    • Unhappy Tax Payer
      February 10, 2016 - 14:51

      I agree 100% - council should resign they are totally out of touch with the city. My big question to each of you is: are you willing to run for council when the opportunity arises? The city needs councilors who are business people who understand finance budgeting and economics! Not those who supplement their pensions and sit quietly not doing anything but agreeing to spend, spend, spend !!

  • Observer
    February 09, 2016 - 20:55

    Dennis O'Keefe doesn't know how hard mayors of other Canadian capital cities work for their salaries . Naheed Nenshi of Calgary was recently in Davos, Switzerland representing his city. Denis Coderre was recently in the news representing Montreal. Mayor Savage was on CBC's Power and Politics advocating for federal infrastructure funds from the Feds for his city of Halifax. John Tory, mayor of Toronto, is out in the public seven days a week...seven!... being the leader he was elected to be. O'Keefe is clearly not interested in putting in the effort on behalf of the taxpayers who elected him and who are paying his generous salary. St.John's is not the city it used to be. It is now an oil town, on the cusp of a new, modern frontier of discovery and success. Dennis is stuck in the sixties, unable to see the future, unwilling to keep up. Keep up the good work, Daniel, of keeping these guys at City Hall under media scrutiny.

  • kev
    February 09, 2016 - 20:50

    The flip-flopping self-massaging councillors are ones to talk about a vacuum of leadership!!!!!

  • ivy
    February 09, 2016 - 19:08

    With the Amount of leaks down at city hall THERE SHOULD BE A PLUMBER CALLED.lol Come on you are a bunch of Grown ups or are supposed to be. There should be NO hidden agendas at City Hall. Openness is what we need NOT ATTITUDE, FAIRNESS TO ALL,not treat one person one way and another Totally different.The Pure NONSENSE down there is SICKENING. THERE IS NO FAIRNESS AT ALL. One person can build and another can not and they are across the street from each other. WHY? Someone can get a Permit in 6 months for land and another IT TAKES YEARS .WHY??? well NO ONE AT CITY HALL CAN SAY, Any problems you may have just gets SHOVED from One DEPARTMENT HEAD TO ANOTHER. WE HAVE A BUNCH OF COMPLETE IDIOTS DOWN THERE. GROW UP DO YOUR JOBS AND TREAT EVERYONE EQUALLY , Why is good for one not good for another WHY?

  • Greg
    February 09, 2016 - 16:53

    This present council is one of the worst in the history of the city. a topic that is unlikely to arise at their meeting is the issue of egos and ambitions that seem to cause them to trip up in one another. Where's the media Galgay is obvious , Puddister couldn't win in a ward however his need to be on council pushed him "at large". Weddings aside Doc's salary greatly out does his teacher pension. Breen? Anyone who thinks Paul Reynolds (RIP) was the first mayor of Wedgewood Park , shows that he cares less for those he represents especially with the naming of the new rec centre . they do need to have a meeting, who will be the first out to leak the outcome, or find a camera?