Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan says Town Clerk Royston King “acted outside of his authority” when he directed the removal of vendors from Robb Street, Bourda without the approval of the City Council and the Mayor’s subsequent defence of his action was not in keeping with the law.
Bulkan made the pronouncements in a letter sent last week to Mayor Patricia Chase-Green, to whom he stressed that Section 8A of the Municipal and District Council’s (Amendment) Act of 2013 “repeatedly makes clear that the elected council is supreme; the Town Clerk is but an administrator, like any other administrative officer, hired to carry out the directives of the council.”
The letter was copied to Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams, Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan and King.
In the letter, dated September 21, 2016 and seen by Stabroek News, the minister took issue with Chase-Green’s recent claim that the Town Clerk could act without the permission of the council and inform the council after if the need arises.
The Mayor made the remarks at a September 13, 2016 statutory meeting, where she defended King’s removal of the Robb Street vendors.
On September 6, Robb Street, Bourda vendors were up in arms after they turned up to erect their stalls and found barricades manned by members of the city constabulary, who informed them that they were not permitted to sell. The council and the vendors have since reached a compromise and they have returned to the location.
However, the manner in which King had the vendors removed caused one councillor, Andrea Marks, to call for his removal. According to Marks, the fact that King acted without informing councillors or receiving the permission of council was unacceptable.
It was in response to Marks’ silent protest at the meeting, that Mayor Chase-Green offered the interpretation which the minister found objectionable.
According to Bulkan, central government has a policy of non-interference with the workings of local democratic organs but it reserves the right to intervene whenever and wherever there is a clear violation of the law. He added that by virtue of Georgetown being the nation’s capital, it will always be subject to particular attention by central government.
Bulkan also reminded Chase-Green that in his address to council on June 20, 2016, President David Granger observed that the city is in desperate need of renewal and central to such renewal is collaboration among central government and other key agencies and stakeholders, including the council and citizens of Georgetown.
Quoting sections of the law, the minister pointed out that the Town Clerk, who is an administrative officer and not an executive officer, derives his authority from the decisions of the council.
“Evidently, the law does not contemplate any scenario in which the Town Clerk makes an order with regard to the management of the municipality in the absence of an order from the council. Further, it is unthinkable that the Town Clerk may make such an order without the knowledge of the council and after doing so inform the council of his own decision. To do so would be to exceed the authority and usurp the mandate of the council,” Bulkan argued.
Using this interpretation of the law, Bulkan informed the Mayor that in removing the vendors without a council directive, King acted “outside of his authority” and her defence of his action was though understandable “unexpected and… not in conformity with the law.
“The Market Committee and the constituency representative should have been involved in the making of such a decision, in addition to the council.”
‘A dangerous precedent’
In the letter, Bulkan also took issue with a declaration by King that the Deputy Mayor does not automatically gain access to facilities afforded to the Mayor in her absence. King used this argument to defend his administration’s failure to make available information and facilities, such as transportation, to Deputy Mayor Duncan while Chase-Green was out of the jurisdiction.
Duncan had written to Chase-Green and informed her that events in her absence from Guyana had left him “puzzled, embarrassed and perhaps in many ways humiliated” because the Town Clerk’s office had not even, as a matter of courtesy, informed him that the vendors would be removed from Robb Street.
He added that King’s office had also not informed him of transportation and other transition arrangements during her absence.
“Georgetown is the oldest municipality and I refuse to believe that there is no consistent, coherent system which exists as to the mode of operation, transition or custom as per when the Deputy Mayor is performing the duties of Mayor,” Duncan wrote in the letter, dated September 7, 2016, while adding that it would require a willful suspension of belief that an exercise of such a gravity as the removal of the vendors would be carried out without the Mayor’s knowledge, even as a matter of courtesy. “This sets a dangerous precedent,” he warned.
In response, King, in a letter to the Mayor dated September 9, argued that the Mayor’s absence from the jurisdiction does not mean that she cannot perform the functions of her office.
“If the Mayor is out of the jurisdiction but can still perform the functions of the office then there is no need for the Deputy Mayor or any Councillor to perform those functions. Again, if the Mayor is out of the jurisdiction and there are no functions to perform, say for example, presiding over statutory or other council meetings or attending a State, official or other such functions, then there is no need for anyone to perform those functions because there are none,” King said before noting that he had checked the Mayor’s diary and noted that she had no duties to perform.
However, Duncan was able to identify in a subsequent response that on September 7 he was called to perform duties at an event not previously scheduled and, due to the administration’s failure to provide facilities, he arrived late.
“The larger issue here is, activities may not be officially on Your Worship’s itinerary locally, when you are required to be out of the jurisdiction officially or on personal business but circumstances occur. Will the administration there and then rent a vehicle for the Deputy Mayor’s usage as it does in your ‘official’ absence? This makes no sense to me. Additionally, above I said, features that go with the Deputy Mayor performing the functions of the Mayor seem to be activated selectively,” Duncan said.
In his letter to Chase-Green, Bulkan noted that the law is clear and sets out under what circumstances the Deputy Mayor must be elevated to the office of Mayor and given access to the funds of the municipality. “There can be no doubt that the letter and spirit of the law contemplates that there must at all times, be a Mayor within the jurisdiction of the municipality and common sense would reveal that this would more so apply to the capital city. Therefore, it is expected that whenever the Mayor leaves the jurisdiction, the Deputy Mayor shall act,” he wrote.
‘I am not a monster’
At yesterday’s statutory meeting, Duncan requested that Chase-Green read the letter received from Bulkan for the benefit of the full council, however she refused and chose instead to address the matter in her announcements.
“I am not a monster,” she declared. “I am tired of reading in the newspapers about the facilities awarded to the Deputy Mayors. I would’ve gone through this over and over, the law is clear,” she added.
The Mayor noted that claims being made have now gone beyond a request for transportation to a request for funds awarded to the Mayor’s office being available to the Deputy Mayor in her absence.
“$25,000 is awarded every three months to the Mayor’s office and whatever is purchased from that money is shared with the deputy mayor. If it is going to bring peace to the Deputy Mayor, then Town Clerk I am asking you give him that money. I am tired of hearing about this over and over. It is unfair to me. It makes me seem as if I am a monster in this chair, taking everything for myself,” she said.
However, in an invited comment, Duncan told Stabroek News that he will not be accepting that. “I hope the Mayor was not before the full council procuring the Town Clerk to break the law. I would not accept the funds because that is not how Chapter 28:01 instructs. The law is clear,” he said.
He further explained that Section 22 under Remuneration of Mayor and Councillors states that “The City Council in each financial year appropriate out of the funds of the Council a sum not exceeding in amount the sum prescribed by Part 1 of the Third Schedule, to be placed at the disposal of the Mayor in the Manner set out in that Schedule, while under ‘Performance of Mayor’s duties when unable to act’ it states at Section 17 (5) “In the event of the Deputy Mayor or a Councillor performing the functions of the office of Mayor for seven consecutive days or more, the Deputy Mayor or Councillor, as the case may be, shall, during such period, have at his disposal, in lieu of the Mayor, the funds placed at the disposal of the said office in the manner specified for the payment of such funds.
“Whether those funds amount to a dollar or five hundred dollars, the law must be followed. The Mayor has to refrain from leading from impulse and lead according to what the law dictates,” he stressed.