King of the city

This week, some city councillors complained that Town Clerk Royston King was acting unilaterally and exposing the entire Mayor and City Council (M&CC) to unnecessary criticism and ridicule. They raised two current issues where this was clearly the case and one must assume that the penny has now dropped. Mr King is in fact king of the city and whatever is done in it, is done at his pleasure. That must be the case, mustn’t it? If not, surely Mr King’s unilateral decisions—at least the last two—would have seen him come in for some sort of censure or disciplinary action?

Or is it that Mr King is the actor, carrying out the mandate of the real ruling cabal?

The two recent issues in which some councillors felt Mr King had acted unilaterally were in relation to two city playgrounds – one in Bel Air Park and the other in Subryanville. The first one was a proposal to expropriate the Bel Air Park Community Ground for the purpose of building townhouses for the city’s hierarchy, himself included. After this plan was gutted by a Hugh Court ruling, residents of the area became suspicious when they saw heavy machinery at work on the playground earlier this week. Calls to their council representative were futile as he had no idea why the machinery was there. Alarmed, the residents contacted the media and Mr King later told this newspaper that the council was merely fulfilling its mandate to maintain the ground.

If this is factual, then why has the council not been fulfilling its mandate to maintain the Farnum Ground in Subryanville, where the second bone of contention exists? Residents had complained that Director of Mae’s Schools Mayfield Rodrigues had stated that she was in possession of a lease for use of the ground and had been granted permission by the M&CC to fence a portion of it. Mr King told a meeting of the M&CC that gratitude was due to Ms Rodrigues, who had repaired and upgraded Farnum Ground after he approached her for help in doing so, in exchange for access; students of Mae’s Schools are able to use the ground for physical activities. It was clear that Mr King’s approach to Ms Rodrigues and their subsequent barter agreement had not been taken to the M&CC prior to being acted on. The councillor who represents that constituency, Carlyle Goring, was not present at the meeting, but the issue was raised by Deputy Mayor Lionel Jaikarran in his stead. That would not have been the case if the matter had been aired and voted on, nor would Mayor Patricia Chase-Green have had to call for the setting up of an oversight committee, which would include residents and a member of the M&CC. The committee was a knee-jerk reaction to councillors’ concerns and a clear case of locking the stable after the horse had bolted.

Then there is the issue of the ‘proposed’ $200 garbage fee. Mr King had announced at a press conference that the M&CC would be implementing the per-barrel fee come next month. It should be noted that he had not announced the opening of consultations on the fee, but a fixed fee and a date of implementation, reportedly approved by the M&CC. This was apparently not the case, as Mayor Chase-Green subsequently threw that out the window, declaring at the meeting that it was not set in stone, as “We are in the consultation process…” By we, the Mayor was referring to the M&CC, not residents of the city. Really? Why then was it announced at a press briefing? The consultation could have been brought to the public’s attention by way of a press release. By the way, citizens are not usually privy to the M&CC’s consultations, the parking meter fiasco was unmistakable evidence of that.

But Mr King’s penchant for despotism did not just rear its ugly head this minute. There have been glaring examples of it in the past. Citizens can no doubt recall the grandiose plans for the Merriman Mall, including a presidential park and a petting zoo. Some amount of feverish work went into the makings of the presidential park, which it was said would cost some $200 million, only to be halted when, as expected, the council’s purse was emptied. The petting zoo, thankfully, never got off the ground, nor have the plans to “renovate” the Promenade Gardens, as announced by Mr King in February 2016, which also included another petting zoo. The latter plan was extremely perplexing since Republic Bank had already spent massive sums on restoration of the Promenade Gardens—a five-year project that began in 2004 and included rehabilitation of the lighting, drainage, plumbing, fence, public conveniences and surrounding pavement, as well as maintenance of the garden’s distinctive horticulture. That maintenance has since been ongoing.

The fact that these projects would not have been itemised in the city’s budget in the years in which they were being undertaken should have been a red flag for Mr King’s leanings for absolutism. Questions should have been asked, particularly by councillors representing underserved communities where work is desperately needed but has been put off annually for want of funds. City Councillor Andrea Marks, who publicly reproached Mr King at the M&CC’s last statutory meeting, noted that he had been frequently bypassing the council and taking actions, which he would later deem to have been “emergencies”.

The question is, if Mr King is not carrying out the mandate of the M&CC whose agenda is he working from? His own? Someone needs to step up and bell the cat before things get much worse.

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