-during locked-out meeting
City councillors by a majority voted yesterday to remove Carol Sooba as acting Town Clerk and appointed Public Relations Officer Royston King to hold the post.
At an extraordinary meeting held in the compound of City Hall after they were locked out of the council chamber by Sooba, Mayor Hamilton Green and 13 councillors also approved a motion to return monies collected from individuals for use of space on the seawall on Easter Monday, labelling the charge illegal, and to discipline officers involved in the scheme, which did not have the council’s blessing.
A motion of no confidence was also passed against Chairman of the council’s Finance Committee Junior Garrett for his role in the saga as well as making decisions unilaterally and signing off on the spending of the city’s money without the council’s permission. The motion also resolved to remove Garrett as the committee Chairman.
All three motions were passed unanimously.
Ignoring a letter from Minister of Local Government Norman Whittaker not to hold the meeting, the mayor and the 13 councillors in attendance braved the afternoon sun and went ahead with the meeting.
For the first time in history, Green said yesterday, the mayor and duly elected councillors were locked out of the council’s Chamber. Green also informed the meeting that his letter to Sooba to convene the special meeting was ignored and that she had even instructed his secretary to return for the letter. She also instructed the senior officers by way of letter not to attend the meeting.
King was the only officer present even as some officers were seen peeping from office windows but Sooba’s office remained tightly shut.
When the motion was passed members of the public who were present applauded in support.
The last statutory meeting ended abruptly after Sooba walked out and instructed officers to do the same. Her actions were prompted by her being disallowed from saying the prayers by the mayor.
“This is a consequence of a strange position taken by the purported Town Clerk acting Ms. Carol Sooba to the effect that the last statutory meeting, was not duly constituted,” Green said yesterday, while maintaining that the last statutory meeting was duly constituted.
He said that after the abrupt end, a request was made for the previous meeting to be reconvened last Thursday but Sooba indicated that the request was not possible. Immediately after, he said, the council requested an extraordinary meeting on Friday for yesterday. He said that letter with the request was delivered to Sooba’s office after lunch on Friday but she did not acknowledge the letter. “We are dealing with a situation that is not only unusual but akin to insanity and a total absurdity,” Green said, before adding that after the last meeting was broken up by Sooba, she followed up by sending him a letter that stated that he must return the mace to her office. Green declared that the letter demonstrated that Sooba lacked the understanding of the significance of the mace and its correct spelling. He explained that the mace is a symbol of authority of the mayor only in any municipality. “So we are dealing with a strange being, and a matter which has already been drawn to the attention of the Ministry [Local Government],” he said, while noting his assumption that the minister could only be in “consort” with the happenings at City Hall.
The motion for Sooba’s removal, moved by councillor Hector Stoute, noted the recent court ruling that her appointment as Town Clerk was unlawful, and resolved that the council return to its March 3, 2011 decision to put a suitable qualified officer to perform the duties of the office until the establishment of the Local Government Commission.
In light of the court’s ruling, Whittaker had announced that Sooba would remain as “acting” Town Clerk.
But Deputy Mayor Patricia Chase-Green said that Sooba had “continuously violated her duties as the Town Clerk” and she recalled the sacking and replacement of a driver and secretary without justifiable cause.
“We are dealing with someone who has no respect or regard for authority,” opined Chase-Green referring to the decision of Sooba to lock the City Hall Council Chambers.
Mayor Green said the Minister of Local Government had no right or authority to impose Sooba on the Council. “Set aside the fact that she is unqualified, inept and incompetent,” he added.
Council Ranwell Jordan relayed the complaints of a former employee of Sooba, in a document presented to the Mayor. In that document, Jordan stated that Sooba had the unnamed employee run errands for her. Jordan said the employee had to pay Sooba’s utility bills, among other things. He further stated that Sooba told the employee with confidence in 2011 that she was promised the Town Clerk position.
“We have had more than close to two years of this situation,” Councillor Gregory Fraser said before noting that both the former and current Local Government ministers, namely Ganga Persaud and Norman Whittaker, respectively, had failed to meet with councillors despite invitations to do so.
He recalled that the council had previously, by a majority vote, elected King to perform the duties of Town Clerk until the Local Government Commission is in place but the Local Government Minister soon installed Sooba. He noted that the decision of the Council was not withdrawn and therefore stays. Councillor Eon Andrews also lent his support of the motion.
King had moved to the courts over Sooba’s appointment as Town Clerk. Chief Justice Ian Chang had then ruled that the manner of her appointment was unlawful but that she could continue to perform the Town Clerk’s functions as a court challenge would be required to formally end her role.
The second motion, moved by Fraser, resolved that the Council deem the collection of monies from individuals for spots on the sea wall on Easter Monday by Sooba and her “accomplices” to be illegal and further seeks to have her return all monies collected from the individuals.
The councillors also resolved to ascertain the names and positions of officers who were involved in what they ruled an unauthorised activity and harassment of persons, and that they be disciplined. The latter, Fraser said, was determined by the Council’s Personnel and Training Committee.
Meanwhile, the no confidence motion against Garrett, also moved by Fraser, cited him for “making decisions unilaterally and capriciously to sign-off payments to expend Council’s monies without its permission.” A recent example cited in the motion included a payment voucher for $500,000 for Sooba to pay an attorney for a legal action for which she was not party, without the permission of the council. It was noted also that in 2014, Garrett, signed off another payment voucher for $168,000 for the unauthorised Easter Monday activity to sell spots on the sea wall, in spite of an instruction by the Finance Committee to the administration to provide justification for that sum.
The motion against Garrett also noted that he this year attempted to present a financial paper he claimed was the council’s budget for 2014 to the Minister of Local Government. It added that he did so despite an earlier decision by the full council that the budget needed their input after not being given an opportunity to make a contribution to it. “It is very clear that Ms. Carol Sooba and Mr. Garrett have assumed imperial like powers to spend our money without any consultation, or authority – a wholly untenable situation that is strategically inhibiting the ability of the council to address the felt needs of the city,” the motion further said.