There seems to be an unnecessary haze on the authority of the Mayor and /or the Council to call an extraordinary meeting. Mindful of our statutory responsibility, we now provide clarity as to the basis upon which the decision was taken to hold two extraordinary meetings of council.
It should be noted that the council is guided by the Municipal and District Council Act, Chapter 28:01. According to sections 52 and 53:
52- (1) “The Mayor and the chairman may call an extraordinary meeting of the council at any time.
(2) If the Mayor or the chairman, as the case may be refuses to call an extraordinary meeting after a requisition for that purpose signed by not less than one third of the whole number of the councillors in office, has been presented to him, or if without so refusing, he does not call a meeting within three days after such request has been presented to him, the clerk shall forthwith call a meeting.
(3) When a requisition is made under subsection (2), a copy thereof shall be delivered at the same time to the clerk.
53 – (1) Not less than three days before any meeting of the council or not less than such shorter period as may be authorised by the Mayor or the chairman before an extraordinary meeting if he is satisfied that the urgency of the business to be transacted is such that a lesser period is justified, a notice of the time and place of the intended meeting signed by the clerk shall be published and a copy thereof, accompanied by the agenda, shall be served on every councillor:
Provided that want of service of a copy of the notice or of the agenda on any councillor shall not affect validity of a meeting.
(2) Except in the case of business required by this Act to be transacted at a meeting, no business shall be transacted at a meeting other than that set out in the agenda. ”
Understanding, the aforementioned sections, it is very clear that, the Mayor, who is the chairman of the Council, has the authority to call an extraordinary meeting, at any time. He does not have to wait on the clerk, who is subordinate to the council, to call that meeting.
In that context, the Town Clerk is really a facilitator not the chairman, a director or a Councillor of the council. Simply put, it is the responsibility of the clerk to put in place the requisite arrangements to hold meetings not to decide unilaterally whether those meetings should be held. The clerk has no such authority. The Town Clerk or any local government officer has no such authority because they were not elected but employed by the people’s representatives (Mayor and Councillors) to carry out certain administrative, technical and other duties for the municipality.
The Mayor and Councillors are the people’s representatives; they were elected by the people. Therefore, they are expected to secure the interest of the people and the wellbeing of their local communities.
The elected councillors are the policy-makers; they are the decision-makers; they are the voice of the people. This is not to say that Officers do not have any say, far from it. Officers have the right and opportunity to participate in the decision-making process through discussions and debates on information they provide to the council, in their monthly technical, health, environmental and other reports, at committee and statutory meetings. But the Town Clerk has no authority, at all, to unilaterally take decisions that would affect the systems of council to provide vital municipal services to citizens. After all, that is the reason why local government bodies exist.
Further, if the City Council does not agree on a matter or a course of action, as was the case with the sale of spots on the seawall last Easter Monday, the clerk has neither the right nor authority to go ahead with any such matter or course of action because they (the Councillors) are the decision-makers elected by the people, to protect their interest. Moreover, the Town Clerk or any other local government officer, for that matter, has no power or authority of their own. All local government officers function out of the context of the particular municipality in which they have been employed. Their job descriptions, job designs and salaries are determined by those very councils or local government bodies. No local government officer can be greater that his/her employer.
Clearly then, for Ms. Carol Sooba to say, to the media and the public that the meetings were illegal because she did not call those sessions is really a demonstration of gross ignorance of the basic laws, which govern the Council as a local government authority and its various and varying functions.
One final point, meetings of the council are duly constituted not because they are called by the clerk; that is nonsense. Among other things, stated in the Standing Orders Rules, meetings are deemed to be duly constituted when:-
“A council shall cause to be kept a record of the proceeding of all meetings of the council and of the committees thereof, which record shall be in the form of minutes or such other form as may be prescribed by standing orders made under section 71; and such minutes or other record if confirmed shall be signed at the next meeting of the council or of the committee, as the case may be by the person presiding thereat, and any minute or any such other record purporting to be so signed shall be received in evidence in legal proceedings without further proof.
Until contrary is proved, a meeting of council or of a committee thereof in respect of the proceedings of which a minute or other record has been kept and signed in accordance with section 64 shall be deemed to have been duly convened and held, and all members present at the meeting shall be deemed to have been duly qualified; and where the proceedings are proceedings of a committee the committee shall be deemed to have been duly constituted and to have had power to deal with the matters referred to in the minutes or other record.
The confirmed minutes or other record of a meeting of a council or of a committee thereof shall be open at all reasonable hours to the inspection of councillors and members of committee free of charge.” (Municipal and District Council Act Chapter 28:01, section 64 to 66:)
All in all, our first obligation is to our stakeholders. We are not proud of the way we have been serving the citizens. As a result, we have to make it more responsive to the felt needs of the citizens of Georgetown, in roads, drainage, public health, environmental health, Meat and Food Hygiene, enforcement of the laws and markets development.
This is what I have committed to do as the officer carrying out the functions and duties of the Town Clerk, during this period.
Currently, I am in the process of planning a series of training sessions on local government laws, roles and responsibilities of councillors and officers of the Georgetown Municipality.
Also, yesterday, we began an awareness programme for the public. Information on important aspects of our responsibility will be disseminated via the media, community meetings and other informational materials. I urge citizens to participate fully in this programme by calling in, on television programmes or writing to us for answers to questions of information and/or clarification.
I believe that, those sessions are vital to protect and preserve the city and to begin to envision what we want Georgetown to look like in the next ten years.
All over the world, particularly in the South, Urban Planners and City Designers are reimagining what is the new normal for cities in this part of the world.
Georgetown must not be left behind. We have to push ahead with the development of this beautiful city of ours and leave a legacy of accountability and responsibility in the way we manage our city resources.
Town Clerk (Ag)
City of Georgetown