City Councillors yesterday voted to send acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba on administrative leave after the recent finding by a court that her appointment was unlawful.
At an extraordinary statutory meeting of the Mayor and City Council, 17 councillors voted in favour of the motion to send Sooba on leave, while four voted against and two councillors abstained.
The motion, moved by Councillor Oscar Clarke and seconded by Council-lor Gladstone George, did not receive the support of PPP/C members of the council when votes were counted. It also did not sit well with Sooba, who told Mayor Hamilton Green that he had no power to send her home and that the motion was illegal.
“Mr Mayor, you have no authority to force me out of this office. That authority is not yours or the council’s. This motion is illegal. You gave no notice. The Town Clerk is advicing [sic] that you continue the meeting in an orderly matter…. You cannot shut me up Mr Mayor,” she shouted.
Sooba even tried to prevent the scribe from counting the votes, stating that she was the “legal officer and the note taker cannot take the decisions.”
Last Thursday, Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang ruled that the Local Government Minister did not have the power to appoint Sooba and therefore the appointment was illegal.
Justice Chang said that former Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud’s decision to appoint Sooba as the Town Clerk was “ultra vires,” since the responsibility for the decision was vested in the Local Government Service Commission, although it has never been set up. He, however, noted that his decision does not prevent Sooba from continuing to perform the functions of Town Clerk as the “de facto” Town Clerk. It needed a direct challenge by quo warranto to the authority of Sooba to bring her de facto to an end, Justice Chang said.
Councillor Clarke proposed that until the matter is resolved, action needs to be taken. “In the meantime, we cannot continue in a situation with someone who is not legally in the position. We need to have someone identified from within the organisation…. The judge doesn’t make decisions for the council. The decision of the council is what will have to stand,” he asserted.
PPP/C Councilor Kamla Devi Ross, however, said that there was never any order by the Chief Justice for Sooba to be removed. “The judge never made that order that the present Town Clerk must vacate the office. The Town Clerk could act in the absence of the commission. There is no way that the judge made such an order,” Ross argued.
But Clarke said, “The minister disregarded the recommendations we made. We need to put a legal stamp on the person who will be Town Clerk. She [Sooba] is not legally here…. In the meantime, we have to find someone and so we have to ask the present (ag) Town Clerk to proceed on leave; she has leave accumulated.”
“I move that the council decide that the present (ag) Town Clerk proceed on leave in order to ensure that the legal problems which we now face are sorted out and that she is not there to affect it in any way,” he stated.
Another councillor, Henry Delph said that should Sooba relinquish her position, he would only support Deputy Town Clerk Sharon Henry Munroe replacing Sooba.
At this point, several of the PPP/C councillors caused an uproar as they argued that Sooba did not do anything wrong and should not be sent on leave. “We cannot took (sic) such action ’cause the Town Clerk did not commit an offence. She did nothing wrong, so why y’all want to send her on leave?” Ross questioned.
“Our practice in this council is that as long as an officer is serving for one year, they are qualified. This is the practice of the council all the time,” another PPP/C Councillor, Victor Sobers, argued.
In an invited comment, Green told Stabroek News that, “there was no question about it being legal or illegal. We asked her to proceed on leave and we wouldn’t be surprised, if with the backings of the minister, she seeks to resist it. This will allow the council to be able to deal with the matter,” he said.
In December 2013, City Hall’s Public Relations Officer Royston King had filed suit asking that the then minister, Ganga Persaud, show cause why his decision to appoint Carol Sooba as Town Clerk should not be reversed. King’s move came after Sooba was appointed despite widespread disapproval and also because an interview panel had voted her as the least qualified person for the job. King had charged that the decision was an abuse of power because Persaud had failed to apply the conditions he had originally requested when advertising for a Town Clerk.
King, Paul Clark and Darren Khan were the other applicants for the position.
Another motion was also moved yesterday by Mayor Green for the council to pay the legal fees to seek further legal advice on the matter. It was also approved.
Green stated that the council was duty-bound to seek further legal advice, “to interpret the decision so that there can be less ambiguity and no confusion. In this regard, I am proposing that councillors agree that the council be responsible for that initiative.”
While a majority of councillors were in favour of this motion, Councillor Ross objected to this, stating that it was a private matter and not the council’s. “Why must the council pay for this when it was a private matter taken up by an individual and not the council? Not the council took [sic] that matter. Leh they understand the order that the judge made,” she argued.
The meeting was subsequently adjourned after several of the councillors decided to leave since they felt the meeting did not have any order.