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Harbour Grace budget postponed due to lack of quorum

Only three of seven council members — Mayor Don Coombs (centre), Coun. Paul Fitzgerald (second from the right) and Coun. Kevin Williams (far right) — attended the council meeting on Monday, Jan. 7 in Harbour Grace following scheduling confusion between councillors.
Only three of seven council members — Mayor Don Coombs (centre), Coun. Paul Fitzgerald (second from the right) and Coun. Kevin Williams (far right) — attended the council meeting on Monday, Jan. 7 in Harbour Grace following scheduling confusion between councillors. - Chris Lewis

Only three council members showed up for first meeting of 2019

Some scheduling confusion led to a fairly empty council chambers in Harbour Grace Monday night.

With the 2019 budget highlighted on the agenda for that night, a cancelled meeting leaves Harbour Grace council with much work to clue up over the coming weeks.

The town was one of the first communities on the radar for The Compass’ council coverage in 2019, with Jan. 7th set as the date for Harbour Grace’s first meeting of the new year.

During the average council meeting in Harbour Grace, the council chambers see plenty of people in the gallery, with a full roster of councillors.

This was not the case for the Jan. 7 meeting, however.

Only Mayor Don Coombs and Councillors Kevin Williams and Paul Fitzgerald were present. The meeting could not go ahead. Under the Municipal Affairs Act four council members are required to have a quorum for a meeting.

Deputy Mayor Sonia Williams told The Compass the next day, a misunderstanding over the schedule for council meetings was to blame.

Williams explained that in keeping with the schedule nearing the end of 2018, she was anticipating a meeting to be held Monday, Jan. 14, and only discovered on Friday, Jan. 4, this was not the case when councillors were advised their agenda packages were ready.

“I was working Monday night, so I reached out to let everyone know I could not attend, but told them I was available the next Monday, on the 14th,” she said. “We’ve discussed this in the past – why we try not to schedule meetings for those dates.”

Williams also stated this schedule has been in place for at least six years, as it allowed her to attend meetings without many work conflicts.

“The others also let the office know that they didn’t know if they’d be able to make it, so I’m not really sure why it (meeting) went ahead in the first place,” she said.

Coun. Kathy Tetford, chair of the finance committee – the committee responsible for budget discussions, was also one of the councillors absent Monday night.

Tetford also told The Compass the change in meeting schedule caught her off guard as well and, she also informed the office on Friday that she would not be able to attend the Jan. 7 meeting due to prior commitments.

“With the rotation we were doing before, I assumed the meeting would be on the 14th,” Tetford also said.

According to Tetford, Councillors Lyda Byrne and Shawn Vaters were in similar predicaments, and had informed the town office they also would not be able to attend.

Knowing that at least four councillors were unsure if they’d make it, Tetford said she figured the meeting would be rescheduled.

“It was quite clear that most of us couldn’t be there,” she said.

Mayor Coombs told The Compass council went through with the meeting Monday night in hopes they would meet quorum, noting there were things that needed to be discussed and finished with as soon as possible; specifically, the budget and the town’s tax structure. He said he was disappointed in the turn of events.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this happen,” he said.

Coombs confirmed for The Compass the next council meeting is set for Monday, Jan. 21.

However, Tetford said she feels there should be a public meeting called earlier than Jan. 21 in order for the budget discussions to go ahead.

She indicated council had hoped to finalize the budget by the middle of January, and staff at the council office were finishing up the last bit of work on it this week.

“I can’t see us waiting until the 21st for our next public meeting. This has got to be done,” she said.

chris.lewis@cbncompass.ca

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