“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”
— Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
Italian astronomer and physicist
When St. John’s Coun. Debbie Hanlon made reference to one of the late Stieg Larsson’s thrillers last week during a council meeting, she didn’t acknowledge the many plot twists her own story’s taken in recent days.
“When I kicked the hornet’s nest, I must have kicked it some hard,” she said on March 8.
Indeed. And when she did, all kinds of nasty things came buzzing out.
Hanlon’s kick began on Feb. 21 when she invited a Telegram reporter on a tag-along to observe how hard she works for her part-time council pay.
“I think it should be a full-time paid position,” she told Dave Bartlett.
In his story, published Feb. 28, she said anyone elected to city hall should be paid full-time wages because the workload of the job requires a full-time commitment. That’s not exactly the tune she was singing a year and a half ago when she was gearing up for re-election.
Back then she was “one of the Top 100 female entrepreneurs in Canada,” with plenty of acumen to bring to the council chamber.
In a Telegram story from Sept. 23, 2009, she told reporter Deana Stokes Sullivan that even though she was a well-known city businesswoman and the owner of Hanlon Realty, she was committed to being a full-time councillor.
There was no mention then of wanting full-time pay, and she’d been on council at that point for more than a year.
Hanlon said then that her active businesses were either in trust or being run by other people, and that her realty company was being managed by her brother and two of her top realtors.
Are you keeping track so far?
Fast-forward to Feb. 28, 2011, and Hanlon is telling The Telegram that, after 17 years of running a real estate business, she had recently turned it over to her brother and walked away.
“I can’t do both,” she said. “I can’t run a real estate firm and (oversee) 45 people and be a councillor effectively.”
Yet, on March 3, when she was contacted by reporter Steve Bartlett, who had learned Hanlon had declared bankruptcy on Jan. 28, she said she had gotten back into real estate sales and was paying down her debt.
She had to declare bankruptcy, she said, because Scotiabank wanted to garnishee 100 per cent of her wages.
“I couldn’t make any payments to anyone else,” she said. “That forced my hand in bankruptcy.”
But there are two things wrong with this picture:
1) Obviously Hanlon hadn’t been devoting herself full-time to council like she said she would, because she was still working in real estate.
2) As Steve Bartlett notes in a news story in today’s Telegram, Scotiabank could not have threatened to garnishee all of her wages because it is forbidden by law to do so.
See how this thing’s getting twisty?
Now, I take no pleasure in anyone’s financial woes. Bankruptcy is a difficult circumstance to bounce back from, and I sincerely hope that Hanlon can and will.
And if she truly believes that councillors are entitled to full-time pay, then she has every right to say so and to try to get her colleagues onside.
But let’s get something straight.
On Feb. 28, Hanlon said she deserved full-time pay. She did not disclose at that time that she was bankrupt, even though as an elected official who serves on council’s finance committee, that’s information the public should be entitled to.
In fact, she did not publicly acknowledge her financial status until after The Telegram contacted her about it, after which she was all over CBC Radio, perhaps in an attempt at damage control before The Telegram’s story was published.
Once her council colleagues started zinging her for gunning for full-time compensation, she blamed the media for having garbled her message and said what she actually wanted was a review of council salaries and responsibilities, since there hadn’t been one in 20 years.
And she insisted that her sudden interest in full-time pay was not linked in any way to the fact that she is more than $450,000 in debt.
“It’s just unfortunate these things came out at the same time, and I’m so hoping that through proper journalism, that it doesn't get convoluted that it’s me looking for a raise, which is what’s been said since Day 1.”
Sorry, but you can’t blame the media for having gotten the message right — from the get-go.
“I’m not looking for a pay raise,” she told The Telegram on March 3. “I’ve never advocated for a pay raise. I could care less about a pay raise. … How come I’m having a hard time getting that message out?”
Perhaps because that wasn’t the original message. Anyone who says that part-time pay is not adequate compensation for a full-time commitment sure as heck sounds like they’re looking for a pay raise.
Besides, Hanlon’s original notice of motion at council was solely about part-time versus full-time salaries, not job descriptions or responsibilities. That came later.
Whatever the case, Hanlon’s credibility seems to have taken a hit in the past few days and there’s been plenty of public chatter, which I don’t think is quite the kind of buzz she was going for.
As for all those hornets, perhaps Coun. Hanlon can take solace in the fact that some of her council colleagues didn’t exactly come off looking flawless, either.
If anything, the stinging comments that swarmed around Hanlon at last week’s council meeting revealed an important truth — some of them are so desperate to score political points that they’ll take any opportunity to turn on one of their own.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email