Town Clerk’s unilateral actions making city council look bad, councillors say

Several members of the Georgetown City Council are convinced that Town Clerk Royston King is acting unilaterally and exposing the council to unnecessary criticism, although his mandate is to carry out their decisions.

Councillor Andrea Marks, who had previously protested King in the Chamber, told a statutory council meeting yesterday that he was making government look bad.

“The Town Clerk is making the President look bad, he’s making me as a councillor look bad, making this council look bad. Everything he do, he do it bad and then he come and tell the council it was emergency. Let’s face reality—for the last two years that’s what the Town Clerk has been doing,” Marks declared.

The council was at the time discussing actions taken by King in relation to the Bel Air Park Community Ground and the Farnum Ground in Subryanville.

The High Court recently ruled that the Bel Air Park community playground is to be used specifically for community purposes and no other. The ruling was made against the Mayor and  City Councillors (M&CC) of Georgetown, the Town Clerk and the Central Housing and Planning Authority, who in 2016 were attempting to convert the recreational space into residential house lots for the Mayor, Town Clerk, City Engineer and Medical Officer of Health.

Work taking place yesterday on the Bel Air Park Community playground

In light of the ruling and the two-year legal battle it took to secure the ground, residents became suspicious yesterday when a bulldozer began clearing the overgrowth on the playground.

Several media houses were contacted by concerned residents as soon as operations began on the tract. The residents were concerned that the city had started taking action to build a series of “modern townhouses” despite the court’s ruling.

Questioned about the action, King told Stabroek News that council was merely fulfilling its mandate to maintain the ground.

By virtue of Section 302(7) of the Municipal and District Councils Act, the M&CC is under an obligation to maintain sports grounds, theatres and promenade gardens in the reserve, which fall within the category specified in Section 302(7) as “open spaces and land vested in the M&CC.”

However, Councillor Alfred Mentore, who represents the Bel Air area, was not appeased by King’s explanation, which was also delivered to council.

According to Mentore, by acting without even informing the council, King has once again exposed council to public censure.

He stressed that it was very important for “political optics” that the constituency representative be informed and that King’s failure to do so has caused unnecessary harm to the council’s image.

He reported receiving several emails and phone calls and being unable to respond appropriately to his constituents. Mentore argued that if he had been informed, he could’ve appeased the residents, who had already been inflamed by the two-year court battle.

Farnum Ground

A similar situation in relation to Farnum Ground, which serves the Subryanville, Kitty and Campbellville areas, was raised by Deputy Mayor Lionel Jaikarran.

In the absence of the constituency councillor Carlyle Goring, the Deputy Mayor shared with the council concerns from the residents who had been informed by the Director of Mae’s School that she was in possession of a lease for use of the ground.

The residents held a community meeting on Friday and reported being told that Mayfield Rodrigues had been granted permission to fence a portion of the ground and use same.

King had earlier in the meeting expressed gratitude to Rodrigues for her support to repair and upgrade Farnum Ground, while saying that its current state was bad for the health of the community.

According to King, he had approached Rodrigues for help in maintaining the space and an agreement for her to upgrade the ground and repair the fence in exchange for access was reached.

He stressed that the ground is currently in a deplorable state and none of the residents had approached the council to address it.

Asked to clarify whether he had signed a lease with Rodrigues, King said that the Director has been given “no exclusive rights to the ground.”

There was no indication that this matter had ever been brought to the attention of the council prior to the agreement being reached. Its terms had not previously identified or discussed, with the sole mention being only during the Town Clerk’s announcements at the beginning of yesterday’s meeting.

At this point, Mayor Patricia Chase-Green intervened, telling King that like in all other communities, there must be an oversight committee.

This committee is to include residents and a constituency councillor, who is to be specifically tasked with communicating the council’s policy on open spaces. “These grounds belong to council, regardless of who maintains it,” Chase-Green stressed.

Garbage fee not set

Additionally, the mayor also declared that the proposed $200 fee for garbage collection is not “set in stone.”

According to Chase-Green, social media is buzzing with claims that Georgetown residents will either pay or their garbage is not being picked up but this is in no way true. “We are in the consultation process. This council has not agreed to charge a fee for garbage collection. It was a recommendation and we are consulting. So, I don’t want to see in the newspapers that we are charging people,” Chase-Green stressed, while noting that council was already receiving reports that some trucks were collecting $200 from residents.

King told council yesterday that no such declaration had been made. “That is not the official message of the council. That is not emanating from me and I make all official releases on behalf of the council,” he told councillors.

Almost three weeks prior, King had announced at a press conference that council will be moving to charge residents a per barrel fee for garbage collection from February, 2018.

During the press conference, Stabroek News specifically asked that King state when council approved the charge and was assured that while the exact date could not be provided, it had actually been approved. He further said that the suggestion of a residential fee for the service was first made by the Director of Solid Waste Walter Narine, discussed at the level of the M&CC’s Finance Committee and approved by council.

He repeatedly stressed that approval of the charge had been given in principle and added that the council would work out the “modalities” of how the fee would be applied before February 1st, 2018.

He subsequently announced a series of consultations on the fee, saying then that it was only a proposal.

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