Mass resignation rocks Northern Arm town council
Only one councillor still sitting
A mass resignation in Northern Arm has left a one-person town council, which held a one-councillor meeting Thursday to pick up the pieces.
Five councillors resigned Sept. 25, days after Mayor Lloyd Hunter quit his post. He was accused of acting in a conflict of interest by the central Newfoundland town's deputy mayor, Michael Tremblett.
Tremblett, who is now the only councillor remaining in his position, maintains Hunter broke the rules by remaining in council chambers during a June meeting when the group discussed the contract of the town clerk — who is Hunter's wife.
Tremblett also alleges the former mayor participated in the debate, although official council minutes show he abstained from voting.
"The onus was on the mayor to declare that he was in a conflict of interest situation. He did not do it. It was up to him to leave the chair. He did not do it," said Tremblett, who said his version of events is backed up by extensive notes he took.
"[He is] not to get involved in the discussion. He did get involved in the discussion," Tremblett said.
Tremblett says he brought forward his concerns earlier this summer but they were dismissed by the other councillors. He's also written to the Department of Municipal Affairs in an effort to have the provincial government intervene.
A statement, written by the five councillors who resigned in late September, said the mayor did start to leave the council room, but other councillors decided that wasn't needed.
"One of the councillors said, look, there's no need," Fred Butler said in a subsequent interview. "There's no discussion here, so it's just a vote, and all you've got to do is abstain from voting. And then it proceeded. Nobody objected."
Butler says the mayor's presence in the room should not be described as a conflict of interest. He said the mayor did not benefit by staying.
"If he had voted, yes, that was a serious conflict," he said. "But he did not. Therefore it was of no benefit, monetary gain."
Newfoundland and Labrador's Municipalities Act states that a councillor "shall immediately leave" a meeting, if they believe they are in conflict of interest — which the act defines, in part, as a direct or indirect monetary interest.
A spokesperson for the Department of Municipal Affairs said the provincial government is aware of Tremblett's accusations but has referred them back to the council, and said the law provides that town councils investigate these complaints on their own.
Former mayor Lloyd Hunter also did not respond to multiple requests for comment, although he has posted information on the town's public bulletin board.
The motion under scrutiny — to change the hours of the town clerk — ultimately passed by a vote of five to one, according to the town minutes.
Tremblett's next step — as the lone person left on council — is to call a byelection to fill the vacant seats.
The Department of Municipal Affairs has given him the authority to hold a one-person meeting to start that process, and to pay any bills the town has incurred.
It will be the third election in the town in under two years. After the regularly scheduled election in October 2017, Northern Arm was first forced to call a byelection because it didn't find enough councillors.
Tremblett says he doesn't know if the town will get enough candidates to fill the chamber again.
"How many will come out? We'll have to see once the byelection is called," he said. "I know of a couple of people who are prepared to offer themselves."
Once council is filled, however, Tremblett is pledging to again push for an investigation into his conflict of interest allegation.
"We can't just sweep this under the counter.… This is a problem, it's a serious problem. It has to be dealt with," he said.
"I want an investigation. It's not going away."