Editor's note: The following article first appeared in the July 3, 2012 print edition of The Compass.
The political heat is again on the rise in the Town of Clarke's Beach, with high profile land disputes, accusations of conflict of interest and open discord at council meetings seemingly dominating matters in the Conception Bay North town.
The twists and turns are tangly and thorny,and involves, among other things, an unusual land dispute between Deputy Mayor Kevin Hussey and longtime Bay Roberts medical doctor Robert E. Humber, the filling in of a local pond, an ongoing controversy over the operation of an RV park in the town, and an accusation that Hussey referred to residents of Park Avenue as "trouble makers."
It was also revealed last week that the town is seeking clarification from the provincial government about whether Mayor Betty Moore can take part in discussions about setting the weekly gas allowance for the mayor's vehicle. Hussey has suggested Moore was in a conflict of interest during finance committee budget meetings late last year.
The tension was palpable at a June 25 public meeting, which saw one councillor, Roland Andrews, leave before the meeting was called to order.
Andrews said outside the municipal building he was "boycotting" the meeting, but refused to elaborate when questioned by The Compass. He did not respond to a subsequent request for an interview.
Council also refused a request by Humber to address the group, saying he did not follow the established protocol. The relationship between Moore and Hussey also boiled over as the meeting was wrapping up, with Hussey suggesting that Moore was behind most of the turmoil and division in the town.
It's the latest in an ongoing cycle of rancour, despite the fact the town is arguably in its best financial shape in recent memory, and is showing steady growth.
The acrimony between Moore and Hussey ignited following debate over a letter from Mildred Snow, a resident of Park Avenue. In her letter, Snow requested that Hussey apologize during the public meeting for allegedly saying that "people on Park Avenue are nothing but trouble markers."
Snow, an outspoken critic of the RV park, alleges that Hussey made the comment during a telephone conversation with her.
Hussey vehemently denied making the comment, and refused to apologize, prompting Snow, who was in the public gallery, to state: "Now you know what you have for a deputy mayor."
Hussey and Moore then engaged in an angry exchange after the meeting was adjourned, with Hussey leaving through a side entrance.
The latest friction was sparked following a decision last month by council to fill in a portion of The Glam, a tennis court-sized pond adjacent to the public works building. Some residents have voiced opposition to the move, saying it could result in flooding for nearby homes.
Council agreed to hire a local contracting firm to deliver fill to the site, at a cost of about $6,500. No tenders were called because the amount fell below the $10,000 benchmarked spelled out in the Public Tendering Act, said Coun. Garry Bendell, who chairs the public works committee.
The source of the fill is what is now in dispute.
Hussey, who lives a short distance away on Wilsonville Avenue, told council he had plenty of fill on his land, and offered access to it at no cost to the town. Council accepted the idea, with Hussey insisting he did not take part in any voting.
The heavy equipment moved in on June 20, and by the next day had hauled away many dozens of tandem truck loads.
It all came to a halt on June 21 when an angry Humber came to the site, alleging he owned all the fill, and some of the land on which the earth was being taken. Humber called the police and produced documents he said proved his ownership.
The incident has touched off a tense situation, with both Humber and Hussey threatening legal action and offering differing versions of the situation, and other town leaders seemingly caught in the middle. Coun. Bendell expressed concern last week that the town was "misled" by Hussey.
"We would not have taken one rock out of it" if there was any question about ownership, Bendell told The Compass.
Sale of land
What is certain is that Humber paid Hussey more than $8,000 for a piece of land in June 2011. But what's unclear is the exact boundaries, since no effort was ever made to officially delineate the new boundary, and the property has not yet been registered.
However, Humber produced a "bill of sale" last week he said proves he owned all the fill, on both his and Hussey's land. The document was signed by Humber, Kevin and Janice Hussey, and a justice of the peace, Cyril Anthony.
It reads as follows: "This is to certify that we, Kevin and Janice Hussey, sell to Dr. Robert E. Humber, a piece of property from the back peg of Kevin's property, straight to the railway track. Kevin and Janice will own the front piece and Dr. Humber will own the rear piece behind Kevin's for the sum of $8,126. All fill contained on both pieces of property will be the property of Dr. Humber."
Hussey acknowledged the document was authentic, but defended his decision to allow the town to remove the fill.
He said Humber removed only the topsoil shortly after the deal was reached, but left his land in a state of disrepair for a full year. Hussey said "100 per cent of the fill" was taken from his land.
"In hindsight, yes I would have called him. But I assumed he wasn't coming back," Hussey said, adding he was concerned a young person on an all-terrain vehicle would be injured, leaving him liable.
When asked if he felt he has placed the town at risk of legal action, Hussey stated: "It has nothing to do with the town. I gave the fill to Dr. Humber. He had over a year to do it. I never opened a gravel pit for him to operate on my property. I should have put a time limit there.
"Unfortunately for me, wherever the chips fall, I'm the one who is 100 per cent responsible; not the Town of Clarke's Beach."
Hussey said he regrets the situation, saying, "What I've been through over the last few days over this foolishness is unnecessary. If I had my time back ... I would have not sold (the land to him)."
Plans for a house
Meanwhile, Humber was expressing anger and frustration last week, and asserting that Hussey should be "off the council."
He expressed regret that he was unable to conclude all the details of the land deal with Hussey, but said it doesn't hide the fact he owned all the fill.
"He informed the council that he owned it. He misled his fellow councillors and encouraged them to expeditiously engage a contractor ...," Humber said. "I think there are major political implications here."
Humber said the town bears some responsibility, since it OKed the work. He also criticized the contracting company for continuing to remove the fill, even after he raised objections.
Humber had plans to build a house on the site, which overlooks Conception Bay and North River. He said those plans are now on hold.
"I don't even know what to think right now," Humber stated.
Feud with mayor
Mayor Betty Moore, meanwhile, defended her record of service to the town.
"I feel I've been doing the best that I can. Our town is moving forward. We're more financially stable than ever, and we've had lots of improvements over the years. It seems to be the deputy mayor has his back up against me, but I'm not concerned with that one bit."
Moore has opposed efforts to fill in The Glam. As for the land dispute between Hussey and Humber, she opposed council's decision to prohibit Humber's request to speak at last week's meeting.