A move to appoint a non-elected resident of Clarke's Beach as chairman of the regional committee that oversees the war memorial in the town has ignited a dispute, on the eve of one of the most solemn remembrance events in the province.
It all began in September, when longtime Clarke's Beach municipal leader Winston Vokey failed in his bid to win re-election during the general municipal election.
Vokey was a driving force behind the establishment of the war memorial, and was chairman of a regional committee consisting of elected representatives of the towns of Clarke's Beach, North River, South River and the Local Service District of Makinsons.
Past practices dictated that all members of the committee be elected officials. However, many on the committee supported a move to have Vokey continue as chairman, based on his past contributions to the cenotaph and remembrance activities.
In October, committee members voted by a slim margin of 4-3 to have Vokey stay on as chairman, with two of the three opposing votes coming from representatives of the Town of Clarke's Beach — Deputy Mayor Wayne Snow and Coun. Danielle Delaney Bussey. They argued that the practice of having elected officials serve on the committee be maintained, though there was support for having Vokey play a leading role as a community volunteer.
The dispute escalated in late May during a meeting of the War Memorial Committee, with Clarke's Beach leaders suggesting that they would handle planning efforts for July 1 remembrance ceremonies — marking the disastrous battle at Beaumont Hamel in 1916 that decimated the Newfoundland Regiment — if a resolution was not reached.
In light of the impasse, Vokey handed in his resignation during the May meeting.
When contacted Monday, June 9 by The Compass, Vokey was noticeably emotional when asked about the dispute. He declined comment, saying he “just needs some time."
The Compass spoke on several occasions this week with Deputy Mayor Snow, but he also declined official comment, saying he planned to prepare a joint statement with Coun. Bussey.
Attempts to contact municipal leaders from surrounding communities have so far been unsuccessful.
Clarke's Beach Mayor Betty Moore confirmed last week that council would continue preparations for the service, but had no intentions of walking away from the regional approach.
“With the services coming up in July, our representatives have said they want to move ahead with (remembrance planning),” Moore explained. “We can’t continue to spin our wheels forever. They definitely want the other towns involved.”
Prior to the creation of the regional committee, Clarke's Beach was responsible for the memorial, which is located just off Route 70 (Conception Bay Highway), directly across the street from the municipal building. A significant beautification and enhancement project took place at the memorial in 2012-13.
Meanwhile, Mayor Moore defended the decision to maintain the committee structure, and said there was never any intent to snub Vokey.
“It made no difference at all that it was Winston, or if it was me or anybody else (who was affected by the suggested changes),” Moore said. “We wanted to have the structure of elected officials. If the chairperson comes from one of the other towns, we didn’t have any problem with that.”
The structure, she said, is similar to one used by the Bay de Grave regional fire brigade and the Conception Bay North Joint Council. All committee members with voting privileges are elected officials, she explained.
“When they put a new committee in place, we suggested that Winston be the person to lead them and guide them into the (July) service,” Moore explained. “He’d be the mentor person, since he’s been there and had the experience. Then he would continue on in an honorary position, which, to me, would be no different than if you had a past-chair.”
The dispute became public this week following a letter to the editor from Kevin Hussey, a former deputy mayor with the Town of Clarke's Beach. Hussey was highly critical of the decision to reject Vokey, describing the move as "shameful."
Other's weighed in the dispute, arguing that the committee structure should be maintained.