-as hearing of appeal on appointment begins
Government appointee Carol Sooba yesterday continued to lay claim to the office of Town Clerk, while the City Council moved to get its banks to recognise its chosen replacement Royston King as the official signatory to its accounts.
The City Hall standoff continued even as Court of Appeal yesterday began hearing arguments on an appeal filed by Attorney General Anil Nandlall over acting Chief Justice Ian Chang’s ruling that Sooba’s appointment was legally defective. Since the ruling, Sooba, who had been appointed as substantive office holder, has been given an “acting” status, while a majority on the City Council, with which she has had a troubled relationship, voted to remove her earlier this week and installed King.
When the case was heard yesterday, an application for a stay of the execution of the order made by Chang, who said Sooba’s appointment must be quashed, was not granted.
Nandlall, in an invited comment after the hearing ended, said that the judge heard arguments from him and the two attorneys representing Sooba, and King. Attorney Roysdale Forde is representing Sooba while attorney Nigel Hughes is representing King.
Nandlall, who confirmed that an application was made for an interim stay of execution but it was not granted, said Hughes was granted a three days’ leave to file an affidavit in answer to the application. Arguments on the issue will continue next Thursday.
Nandlall filed the appeal last month on behalf of the Minister of Local Government Norman Whittaker.
It seeks to have the order quashing Sooba’s appointment vacated or set aside.
In listing the grounds of appeal, Nandlall argued that Justice Chang “erred and misdirected himself in law” when he ruled that the Minister had no power to appoint Carol Sooba as Town Clerk for the Georgetown City Council under the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01. He also argued that Justice Chang’s decision was “misconceived and wrong in law” as well as “against the weight of the evidence.”
On April 10th, Justice Chang ruled that former Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud did not have the lawful authority to appoint anyone and that his decision to appoint Sooba as the Town Clerk was “ultra vires.”
However, Justice Chang said that his decision did not prevent Sooba from continuing to perform the functions of Town Clerk as the “de facto” Town Clerk since a direct challenge was needed to bring her de facto tenure to an end. King subsequently appealed parts of Chang’s recent ruling including the part which says that she can continue performing the functions of Town Clerk.
Sooba told Stabroek News that she has been conducting the duties of Town Clerk, which was recognised by the Mayor, who sent a requisition over to her for fuel. (King later said that the mayor’s secretary requested Sooba to authorise his fuel allocation without his knowledge as is routine.) She further explained that she has had no trouble with executing her mandate and that all her staff members are inline.
With no confusion on the part of her staff, she said that the only one confused is King and those who believe that he is the Town Clerk. She also said that many of the Councillors continue to recognize her as Town Clerk or they would not have collected the cheques she signed on Thursday, paying them their due allowances. She said too that she has the full co-operation of the City Treasurer, who is the Chief Accountant and whose signature is necessary for the conduct of financial matters. Confident about her position as Town Clerk, she said everything is fine with her office and she’s preparing for the statutory meeting on Monday.
Meanwhile, at a news conference called yesterday, Deputy Mayor Patricia Chase-Green along with Mayor Hamilton Green and King maintained that there is only one Town Clerk as they sought to clarify the unusual situation. “There is only one Town Clerk! Ms. Sooba is no longer Town Clerk! She has been fired by the Council” said Chase-Green, who said King is the officer performing the duties of the Town Clerk until the Local Government Commission comes into operation.
The group once again noted that King’s appointment is in keeping with a previous decision dating back to March of 2011 based on a motion by the council.
They further explained that the Minister of Local Government did not give any reason for refusing to sanction the appointment but sought to install a politically obedient individual to the post—Sooba.
They maintained that the dilemma will continue until the Local Government Commission is made operational but added that as far as they could tell the government has no intentions of moving to do so.
When asked about the logistics and actual functioning of the acting Town Clerk, they said that as with any unusual situation there will be problems during the transition. They explained that the staff members are confused as to what they should do and that the union will soon take a position on the subject and advise the staff accordingly.
With regards to the finances, they say they have already dispatched the letter to change the signatories to the municipality’s bank accounts and expect the bank to cooperate fully.
However, Mayor Green mentioned that the Minister of Local Government also wrote the bank stating that Sooba is the duly authorised signatory as Town Clerk.
The bank now finds itself intertwined in the travesty at a time when staff’s salaries are due. Green, Chase-Green and King said the staff will understand and have to bear with any delay that may arise out of the unusual situation.
However, like Sooba, King expected a resolution of the situation at the upcoming statutory meeting.