Acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba yesterday walked out of what was to be a statutory meeting of the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) after she was not allowed to recite prayers.
By virtue of her current position, Sooba functions as the council’s secretary during these meetings, and traditionally the secretary has been tasked with offering prayers before the meeting commences. She was refused the responsibility yesterday though, owing to “insulting” statements she made about the Christian community just before Easter, the mayor said.
As the council made its way through the preliminary procedures Mayor Hamilton Green announced a moment of reflection, at which time each member was free to offer a silent prayer. At this point Sooba interjected that Green was out of order to call for reflection, and that the meeting would not be duly constituted unless the customary procedure of allowing her to say the prayers was observed.
Choosing not to respond to Sooba’s argument, Green pushed on and called for the National Pledge to be repeated. At this, Sooba said the meeting was not duly constituted, and that she could not stay. As she walked out of the Hall, she instructed all other officers to return to their offices.
Nobody moved at first, but when she returned and gave the order a second time, several officers, including the officer in-charge of recording the proceedings, the Assistant Town Clerk and the Solid Waste Director left.
A lengthy exchange then followed as councillors tried to determine whether or not to continue the meeting. Save for Victor Sobers, all of the councillors who turned up for yesterday’s meeting participated in the discussion. Sobers said that the Town Clerk is charged with carrying out important responsibilities at the meeting, and he could not sit at a meeting where the Town Clerk was absent.
The Town Clerk holds the post of secretary during the City Council’s statutory meetings, and with her gone the meeting could not legally proceed unless she returned, or her assistant took her place. Noting this, the Mayor called on Chief Constable Andrew Foo to summon the Assistant Town Clerk to provide secretarial duties so that the meeting could continue.
However, Foo advised that he was responsible for ensuring security at the meetings and could not leave as long as the mace was in its place. He further stated that the persons in question had already left the premises and therefore could not be reached.
The Mayor eventually announced that he would write a letter to Sooba advising that the meeting be postponed until Friday.
Disrespectful to Christians
Speaking to the media afterwards, the Mayor said he decided that Sooba would not be the one to say the prayers because she publicly made statements which were inappropriate and insulting to the Christian community. Commenting on the sale of spots for the Easter Holiday during a press conference on April 15, Sooba had said “…well, all the people should wear their long gowns, the Christians with their Bible, and go out to those spots and fly their kites and resurrect Jesus Christ.”
At the time she was addressing the matter of the price for which spots were being sold.
“It would be inappropriate to ask such a person to lead us in prayer,” the Mayor told reporters.
Further, pursuant to Sooba’s claim that the mayor was violating the laws which govern the City Council by not allowing her to say the prayers, Deputy Mayor Patricia-Chase Green said there is nothing in the council’s Standing Orders (SOs) which demands that the Town Clerk read the prayers.
In fact, Chase-Green argued, the decision to allow the secretary to say the prayers is based on tradition, as opposed codified law. She said the Mayor, as chairman of the meeting, is vested through the SOs with the power to determine the order of the meeting and is therefore empowered make a range of decisions, including who will say the prayers.
Chase-Green said she believed Sooba’s actions yesterday were premeditated. At the last statutory meeting, she said, Sooba was also denied the privilege of saying prayers. She speculated that Sooba was likely caught off-guard and allowed the meeting to continue after the Mayor, on that occasion as well, had called for a moment of reflection.
After the meeting though, the Mayor said, Sooba sent correspondence to his office stating that the last meeting was not duly constituted because she was not allowed to say the prayers.
During the exchange which followed Sooba’s exit, several councillors lamented her decision. Kamal Devi Rose in particular seemed quite perturbed that the meeting was disrupted over a dispute about who should say the prayers. “Read the prayers leh we move on… Is prayers we quarrelling fuh? Ow man, look, allow de prayers fuh go for God’s sake,” Rose complained.