CARBONEAR, NL — The biggest crowd in years showed up for a regular Carbonear council meeting Tuesday, with the ouster last month of former mayor Frank Butt on everybody's minds.
The meeting was a quick one, finishing in 24 minutes. With capacity at 49 and the town's municipal enforcement officer present, some residents had to stand outside council chambers. Doors were left open so they could watch and listen, but Deputy Mayor Chris O'Grady eventually ordered the MEO to close those doors a couple minutes before the meeting was adjourned. Shouting could be heard from outside.
"So is any councillors going to come and back Frank up?" a woman asked from outside the chambers, addressing the former mayor's removal over an alleged conflict of interest over a 2014 motion. "As far as I'm concerned, the new members, you didn't know what you were doing."
An anonymous letter sent to the town and Municipal Affairs suggested there was potential monetary gain to be made from a motion Butt made and voted on in May of 2014 to demolish a property on Water Street located a short distance from a gas station and convenience store he owns. His motion failed, but the building in question was eventually torn down and had been the subject of a demolition order for years.
Early on in the meeting, O'Grady read from a prepared statement regarding the former mayor's case in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador. Addressing the town's decision to use a lawyer from a private firm, O'Grady noted Butt's application with the court includes conflict of interest allegations concerning town lawyer William Finn. As outlined in that document, Finn was involved in at least six transactions for the property at 234 Water Street. Finn had advised the town last fall that the conflict of interest allegation against Butt had merit. St. John's lawyer Ian Wallace is representing the town.
"The notice of appeal also alleges a legal conflict against Mr. William Finn, the council's longstanding lawyer, as a result of past representation of the company that owned the property adjacent to the property owned by Mr. Butt's company," O'Grady said. "As a result, based on the advice of Mr. Finn, Mr. Wallace was retained."
Butt's case against the town returns to court Jan. 18.
O'Grady twice threatened to clear council chambers Tuesday and hold the meeting without an audience in response to Carbonear resident Gerard Butt, who stood up at multiple instances during the meeting to either pose questions or make requests. Prior to a vote to adopt the minutes of the Dec. 12, 2017 meeting — the same one where council voted to declare the mayor's seat vacant — Gerard Butt asked why the minutes of that meeting had not been shared with the public.
O'Grady said the minutes had not been approved by council yet and would not be published and shared publically until then. He also noted the resident had not made an official request prior to the meeting to address council.
Gerard Butt then asked if the minutes could be read before they were adopted for the people in the chamber.
"I'm standing on a point of personal privilege Deputy Mayor O'Grady," he said. The deputy mayor declined and said council could do nothing further with the minutes until they were approved.
After O'Grady read from the statement about the former mayor's case against the town, Gerard Butt again stood up and this time asked at what meeting did councillors decide to hire a lawyer from a private firm. O'Grady said he was out of order and then threatened to clear the chambers.
"If you get up again, you'll have to leave the chambers, or we'll clear the chambers and we'll have the meeting with the doors closed, because that's what's going to happen next," the deputy mayor said.
When Gerard Butt stood to speak a final time a few minutes before adjournment, O'Grady said he would have to sit down or the deputy mayor would clear the chambers. The resident then left the chambers.
The next Carbonear council meeting is scheduled for Jan. 23.