As Town Clerk I only act on the basis of legal authority

Dear Editor,

Please refer to a letter which appeared in your issue of Wednesday February 15, headlined, ‘I intend to move a vote of no confidence against the Town Clerk’ by Councillor Sherod Duncan.

Had it not been for the huge potential of this letter to mislead the public I would have ignored this grossly inaccurate piece. However, my obligation to ensure that citizens are kept accurately and truthfully informed on all matters and issues at City Hall has influenced my response to his letter.

Although I have the highest respect for Councillor Sherod Duncan, I have to say that he has once again demonstrated a woeful lack of knowledge of the laws, by-laws, regulations, policies and rules that govern the specific and general operations of the Mayor and City Council.

At the last statutory meeting of the council held Monday February 12, I announced that the Mayor of Georgetown, Mrs Patricia Chase-Green and the Deputy Mayor, Mr Lionel Jaikaran were out of the jurisdiction. I informed the councillors present that according to the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01:17 (1) “During any period when the Mayor is for any reason unable to perform the functions of his office, those functions shall be assumed and performed by the Deputy Mayor. (2) If the Deputy Mayor is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office of Mayor in accordance with subsection (1), the Town Clerk shall call a meeting of the councillors to elect a councillor to perform those functions; and the councillor so elected shall assume and perform those functions until such time as the Mayor or Deputy Mayor, as the case may be, is able to act.

“(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.”

I then asked councillors present at the meeting to nominate and elect a councillor to chair the proceedings. Councillor Akeem Peter was elected to chair that statutory meeting.

Distilling the elements of what Councillor Duncan is attempting to make an issue, I wish to make the following points:

(a) Councillor Akeem Peter was not elected acting Mayor or to perform the functions of Mayor; he was elected to chair the proceedings of the statutory meeting of Monday, February 12.

(b) There is no provision in the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01 for an acting mayor; in the event the Mayor is unable to carry out her functions, the Deputy Mayor or the councillor so elected must carry out the duties of Mayor.

(c) The Deputy Mayor or the councillor elected to carry out the duties of the Mayor must perform those functions for seven consecutive days or more before he or she is accorded the facilities assigned to the Office of Mayor. This is in keeping with Section 17, subsection (5) of the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01.

The Mayor travelled on Wednesday, February 7. Councillor Akeem Peter was elected on Monday, February 12 to chair the statutory meeting. The Mayor is expected to return to the jurisdiction on Thursday, February 15, by the time this letter is published.  Therefore, the arguments of Councillor Sherod Duncan are not only unreasonable and inaccurate but also seek to encourage the Town Clerk to act above and beyond the guidance provided by the Act on the course of action to be taken when the Mayor and Deputy Mayor are out of the jurisdiction.

As Town Clerk I must act only on the basis of legal authority; to do otherwise would amount to an error. In doing so, I must focus only on the considerations spelt out in the Municipal and District Councils Act and other relevant and related laws and not on extraneous considerations. I cannot exercise discretion that is not accorded to my office by the law, even if an individual or councillor feels otherwise.

The second issue is the matter that is engaging the attention of the courts that involves a portion of land owned by the City Council situated in Bel Air Park. It would be wrong for me to pursue this matter in this reply because it is before the court. However, commenting on my action in relation to it I would only note that, according to the Municipal and District Councils Act,  Section 6, “The City Council may sue and be sued by and in the name of Town Clerk of Georgetown.”

Again, the Sixth Schedule:  Powers, Duties and Responsibilities of Certain Officers, Part I The Town Clerk:

“(5)Subject to any general directions which the council may give, he shall have the charge and custody of, and be responsible for, all charters, deeds, records and other documents belonging to the council which shall be kept as the council may direct.

“(6) He shall have the duty of ensuring that the business of the council is carried out with order, regularity and expedition in accordance with the by-laws, resolutions and standing orders of the council.

“(7) He shall have the responsibility for the general correspondence of the council.

“(8) Where any document is required as a necessary step in legal proceedings on behalf of the council he shall sign such document unless any written law otherwise requires or authorizes, or the council shall have given the necessary authority to some other person for the purpose of such proceedings.”

Again, under the Act at Section 77: “(1) The Clerk shall be the chief administrative officer of the council of which he is the clerk and shall have the general responsibility of coordinating the whole of the work of the council.

“(2) In the discharge of the functions of his office the clerk shall have all the powers and duties conferred and imposed upon the clerk by or under this Act or any other law, and, in particular, but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, he shall have the powers and duties assigned to him by and be responsible for the matters specified in Part I of the Sixth Schedule, and such other duties as may be assigned to him by the council of which he is the clerk.

“(3) The clerk or other officer authorized in writing by the clerk may, subject to the general or specific directions of the council, exercise the powers of the council, and all acts done by the clerk or such officer in the exercise of those powers shall be deemed to have been done by the council.”

I would also note that similar legal matters were never taken to the council for decision. Successive councils understood that it is the responsibility of the Town Clerk to manage the legal arrangements of the council. Again, there is no precedent in this area of administrative responsibility, at the Mayor and City Council. Therefore, my action is based on custom and practice, my understanding of my responsibility and the Act, Chapter 28:01. themselves. The truth about the matters raised in the letter signed by Councillor Duncan, I ask readers to judge for themselves.

In conclusion, we, at the City Council, have always honoured and respected the views and wishes of the Minister of Communities; we value his advice and wisdom. Beyond that, we continue to look to him for support and guidance as we lean forward together to advance the interest of the city.

On the question of change, I have to refer to the numerous achievements of the council under this new national and local leadership. We would be the first to admit that there is much room for improvement in all areas of our work, as is the case with all public and even private corporations and organisations. That, notwithstanding, there is no gainsaying that there has been a noticeable improvement in the physical condition of the council. The council continues to push ahead with it restoration plan, which includes, inter alia, repair to bridges, roads, the dredging of canals and other waterways, upgrading existing open green spaces and creating new ones, designing and creating recreational facilities for our children and seniors, repairs and restoration to our municipal market facilities, restoration of our cemeteries, improved solid waste management, improved environmental and public health services, regulation of vehicular traffic on the city’s roads and a host of other things.

Also, there has been change in substance and process in the way we manage the city. Local communities are benefiting from improved municipal service and facilities and more citizens are involved in the governance and management of their neighbourhoods. It is clear that with the support of all of our citizens we can lift Georgetown to a new plateau of beauty and excellence.

Yours faithfully,

Royston King

Town Clerk

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