CARBONEAR, NL — After spending more than half a year in the gallery of Carbonear council meetings, Frank Butt is taking his place back in the mayor’s chair.
Butt will always remember Dec. 12, 2017, as the night his career as a municipal politician took a turn for the worse.
That night he left the council chambers — voted out by the others on a conflict of interest decision — returning eight months later, after a lengthy legal battle between him and his fellow council members.
Butt sat on Carbonear council for a number of years – first as a councillor and then as deputy mayor. In 2017, he ran for mayor, an election in which he came out on top, besting runners-up George Butt Jr. and Sam Slade, both past mayors.
However, only three months later, council came to the decision that Butt had been in conflict of interest regarding a motion he made in 2014 to demolish a dilapidated building known as the Surprise Bag, located on Water Street, adjacent to Butt’s Esso – a gas station owned by Butt.
Prior to Butt’s seat being declared vacant, the land where the Surprise Bag once stood had been sold by the town and is being used as a parking lot for the Stone Jug.
The motion in question was brought to the attention of council via an anonymous letter from a resident, received only days after the new council was elected. While the 2014 motion ultimately failed, council still believed Butt to be in conflict of interest, leading them to make the decision they did in December.
“For a lot of people, day one of this is Dec. 12, when council decided to vacate my seat, but for me it goes way back to September,” Butt said.
“This letter had been looming over my head from September right up to that night in December, so it was a little uneasy for me. It was hard to be excited about the election, knowing that this was being discussed behind the scenes,” he told The Compass.
Butt was given a 21-day deadline to appeal council’s decision through the courts, which he did only days later. He said it was an easy decision to make, noting he knew all along council was wrong.
The court process took place throughout from December to July, with Butt represented by lawyer John Babb.
Through the court process, Butt ultimately made his way back to the mayor’s chair.
He was sworn in again on July 23.
“That was definitely a good feeling, going into the council chambers and hearing and seeing all these people there to support you and congratulate you,” Butt said, noting that the gallery is not usually quite as full as it was that Monday.
As exciting as the outcome may be for Butt and his supporters, the associated court costs were not cheap.
The Town of Carbonear will have to pay up to $60,000 for the legal costs of the case.
The public’s reaction to Butt’s seat being declared vacant in December saw plenty of residents of the town taking to social media, as well as the council chambers themselves, to express not only their support for Butt, but also their disappointment with the decision.
For quite some time, council meeting attendees could be seen holding signs plastered with Butt’s face and name, and a hashtag #imwithfrank made its way across social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
In some instances, council found themselves face-to-face with the backlash, with residents speaking out during meetings and making no effort to hide their discontent.
Butt explained to The Compass that, although he appreciated the shows of support, he knew it would not alter the outcome of the situation.
“I mean, the townspeople had their say. I would always tell them thank you, and it was great to have their support, but at the end of the day, it’s all up to the justice, right?” he said.
“It certainly was good to have that level of support from the community – not just family, but a lot of people who felt as though it should have never gone the way it did. I couldn’t ever go anywhere without people asking me how it was going, so that showed me just how invested people were in all this.”
Despite the turmoil of the previous eight months, Butt said he will have no issue getting back to where he was and working with council.
“No bad blood or anything of that sort on my part,” he said. “At the end of the day, yes, council made an error in judgement, but we didn’t get elected to serve ourselves,” he said.
“We’re there for the community, and I’ll have no problems working with council, as I have in the past, to ensure that we keep doing what’s best for our town. I trust that’s the same for everyone else, too.”
Butt is trying not to look back on it with contempt but rather as a chance to build himself up as a politician and as a person, as well.
“I’ve always had thick skin, anyway, but this has definitely made it even thicker,” he said.
“I’m just glad to know that it’s coming to an end now, and we can get back to what council was elected to do.”
Now that Butt is back in the mayor’s seat in Carbonear, his focus is on nothing but the future.
The revitalization of Carbonear’s downtown sector is still big on his agenda and he is eager to get back into the project.
“Bringing in tourists to our town is very important to me. Yes, it’s a seasonal thing, but it’s a long season – from May to October. It’s not just the summer months, believe it or not,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it generates money, which we can then put into the community.”
The business community in Carbonear and surrounding area is also a priority.
“We’ve got to hustle on that because you need a thriving economy in order for a town to operate. I think Carbonear is doing pretty good in some areas there, but the way I see it, is there’s always room for improvement, no matter what.”