Town Clerk cannot act without city council’s knowledge

Royston King

Although Town Clerk Royston King has repeatedly claimed that the law grants him the power to act without first being directed by the City Council, on Friday retired judge Cecil Kennard informed him that he has misinterpreted the legislation.

In testifying before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the operations of City Hall, King noted that a 40-year lease signed with Quick Shipping to occupy land on the Lombard Street foreshore was never brought to the attention of council.

He claimed that there exists a policy at council that once a parcel of land has already been leased once, the matter does not need to be returned to the full council.

Challenged by CoI Chairman Kennard that the lease signed in 2016 was between new parties and for new terms, which should’ve required that council be updated, King argued that in the capacity of chief administrator he is tasked with the efficient use of council property and that the Sixth Schedule of the Municipal and District Councils Act in conjunction with Section 321 (2) gave him the authority to sign on council’s behalf without informing those who sit at the horseshoe table.

Kennard, however, disagreed with King’s interpretation of the law, noting that while the sections grant him permission to sign on behalf of the council, they do not grant him permission to be sole negotiator and signatory and without the city council’s knowledge.

In defence of King, his attorney, Maxwell Edwards, argued that King likely misinterpreted the law. According to Edwards, who is a former magistrate, even judges misinterpret the law, much less King, who has no legal training.

Edwards also claimed that the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) is fraudulently claiming the Lombard Street land. NICIL had previously told the CoI that the land is transported to Guyana National Engineering Corporation Limited (GNEC) via Land Transport #525 of 1985.

Arianne McLean, in-house attorney for NICIL, testified that GNEC acquired the property in 1985 after purchasing it from the Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC). Subsequent to this acquisition, NICIL acquired the property when GNEC was dissolved, and all of its assets and liabilities were handed over to NICIL via a vesting order, dated May 30th, 2002. The vesting order, McLean maintained, listed the property as the first asset on the vesting order.

However, King and Edwards argued that though they have personally searched and caused the staff of Parliament Office to search for the order vesting ownership of the piece of land at Lombard and Sussex streets in the GMC they could find none.

As a result, King has submitted to the CoI that it has been concluded that “the reasonable and irresistible inference is that no notice was published and accordingly that property never vested in or passed to GMC which therefore was incapable of passing transporting to anyone.”

King further provided the commission with copies of a transport, No. 2803 of 1966, which shows that the then Mayor and Town Council of Georgetown had full and absolute title to the riparian lands abutting and contiguous to the foreshore at Mudflat 1 Lombard Street.

Additionally, King provided a copy of a lease, dated 1958, between the then Mayor and Town Council of Georgetown and the Colony of British Guiana, which granted the colony use of the land for the purpose of carrying on a Fish Centre for 10 years at a rental of 24 cents per annum.

He also noted that in 1995, a lease agreement was signed between M&CC and the Georgetown and International Fishing Investment Company Limited. A copy of this lease, filed as No. 132/99 with the Deeds Registry, was also provided to the commission.

As the public hearings of the CoI closed following King’s testimony on Friday, legal counsel for the CoI Sherwin Benjamin noted that the commission would work to establish ownership of the property through a detailed record search of the land registry and Parliament Office.

No-confidence motion

Meanwhile, on the matter of the no-confidence motion brought against him by councillor Sherod Duncan, King noted that he wanted “independent legal advice” and therefore engaged Edwards, who had not worked for him or council before that time.

Duncan’s motion was disallowed when a majority of councillors voted to accept Edwards’ legal advice that the policy-making body has no right to declare a lack of confidence in its chief administrative officer.

Edwards argued that a vote of no-confidence amounts to a disciplinary action against the Town Clerk, a function which is outside the powers of the council.

“I advise that if the motion was passed in its current form it would be… ineffectual, of no legal effect. The motion for a vote of no-confidence in the Town Clerk is in substance the legal test as to what it amounts to in law and in intent. The disciplinary measure or action connoting as it does, inter alia, some reprimand or adverse consequences,” Mayor Patricia Chase-Green had read for those present at the March 11th meeting.

The advice repeatedly noted that the power to discipline the Town Clerk lay with the Local Government Commission (LGC). The LGC is under the Local Government Commission Act of 2013 “responsible for employment, transfer, discipline and dismissal of staff and approval of remuneration, superannuation, training, leave and promotion of staff”.

The decision by council to accept this opinion has come in for sharp criticism from both the public and Kennard, who told Mayor Chase-Green she should’ve sought another opinion.

Also criticised was King’s decision to sit in on the meeting where the advice was presented and accepted. Kennard argued on Friday that doing so was in poor taste.

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