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Witless Bay town business ‘at a standstill’


The province’s minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment has the authority to appoint additional members to a town council when there are insufficient members to meet quorum (the minimum number needed to make a meeting valid).

But what happens when there are still enough council members to meet quorum, but not enough of them show up and meetings continuously get cancelled?

The Town of Witless Bay is in that situation, and it might have to continue that way until municipal elections are held in September.

While the council still has four members — down from seven — Mayor Maureen Murphy has been forced to apologize to residents for council meetings being cancelled since April due to a lack of quorum. That means the town has not been able to proceed with applications for permits and other town business.

The Telegram has not been able to get in touch with Murphy directly, but in a Facebook post July 11 she writes: “Regular public monthly council meeting is cancelled for tonight due to lack of quorum. Council needs four councillors to attend in order to have a public meeting. Once again I apologize to all residents who are waiting on permits and other town business. Without a quorum town business is at a standstill.”

Murphy had a similar posting on June 13. In fact, there has been no productive town council meeting in Witless Bay since April.

A statement Monday from the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment says, “As part of their duties, town councillors are required to attend council meetings to ensure that town business can continue. In the case of the Witless Bay town council, there are sufficient councillors to constitute quorum.”

The town has had a problem with maintaining councillors the past couple of years.

In fall 2016, the town had to hold a byelection to fill two vacant seats. In spring 2017, the mayor and deputy mayor resigned, leaving just five members to run the town.

Coun. Maureen Murphy was bumped up to the mayor’s chair and local businessman Fraser Paul — who won one of the byelection seats — became deputy mayor.

But then Witless Bay resident Lorna Yard challenged Paul’s eligibility to run for the Witless Bay town council in the fall 2016 byelection, as she claimed he did not live in the town as he had stated in his nomination documents.

The case went to court and Yard won. Newfoundland Supreme Court Justice David Orsborn filed his decision earlier this month, stating Paul had not been a resident of the town for at least 30 days prior to the nomination deadline for the fall 2016 byelection.

The Telegram has been unable to reach Paul for comment as of Monday.

On Facebook, however, Murphy confirms in a July 15 post that Paul has resigned from council: “A number of people have been inquiring about the resignation of Fraser Paul from council and the cancellation of council meetings. His resignation had absolutely nothing to do with past council meetings being cancelled due to lack of quorum nor will it affect future council meetings being held. Fraser Paul was available for all meetings that were cancelled due to lack of quorum. Council now has four councillors which is a quorum and that is all that is needed to carry out town business as long as every councillor shows up for a meeting.”

The department did not say whether it would review or get involved in the Witless Bay quorum situation.

The department did, however, comment on the case brought on by Yard against Paul.

It stated that it is the first known case where a councillor has been deemed to have not been a resident for 30 days preceding nomination, yet still was elected and carried out duties on council.

“The vast majority of town councillors in the province are honest citizens who work hard every day to make their communities better places to live,” the statement reads.

“Returning officers in each municipality are responsible for determining whether candidates meet residency requirements in municipal elections. The provincial government continues to appreciate the hard work and the diligence of returning officers throughout the province.

“Given the ruling of the court case, the department will consider potential next steps in consultation with the Department of Justice and Public Safety.”

Yard, meanwhile, said the court case should be a wakeup call to the provincial government to update and revamp provincial municipal legislation.

The department said it is reviewing the legislation.

“The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment is undertaking a review of all municipal legislation. We have heard Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, the Professional Municipal Administrators and local governments in their desire to see municipal legislation comprehensively reviewed and updated to ensure it meets the needs of today’s cities and local governments. Through Budget 2017, the department is dedicating a policy development resource to build on the ongoing work to review and renew the municipal legislative framework.”

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