Nfld. & Labrador

Private St. John's council meeting a chance to 'clear the air', says deputy mayor

The mayor of St. John's says a closed-door meeting that's called for Sunday will not be about his leadership, but city councillors say it's an issue that will definitely be discussed.

'This meeting is about council and council's leadership as a whole,' says Ron Ellsworth

Ron Ellsworth says this private meeting should help council "clear the air" and get a "good dialogue and understanding of the issues". (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The mayor of St. John's says a closed-door meeting that's called for Sunday will not be about his leadership, but city councilors say it's an issue that will definitely be discussed. 

"It's very clear that we have some issues internally ...  and this is an opportunity to clear the air," said Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth of the Feb. 14 meeting.

We're elected to govern this capital city and we need to get back to governing this capital city.- Ron Ellsworth

"For me, this meeting is about council and council's leadership as a whole … and I'm hoping that at the end of the day that we'll come out of that with a picture and a path forward as a team."

The private meeting comes after weeks of protest from business leaders, taxpayers and arts supporters about a controversial budget that increased city taxes and cut services.

While Ellsworth expects there will be discussions surrounding mayor Dennis O'Keefe's performance, he said "it's not about keeping things secret", but having a good dialogue and understanding of the issues.

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe says a closed-door meeting set for Sunday is not about his leadership. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The great divide

Sources say city's handling of its controversial budget, the scuttled attempt to buy land for a new depot and fire hall, and the mayor's use of city resources to perform marriages are all issues that have divided council.

Ellsworth said the land issue is more about process and getting clarity on how the item ended up on the agenda, and on how discussions took place. He added that council unanimously agreed to step back from the issue to take a closer look.

We need to be held to the same standard as our employees and at this point we're not and we need to change that.- Ron Ellsworth

He did however, have a concern with comments the mayor made regarding weddings.

While he feels O'Keefe dealt with the issue firmly, he said the mayor only needed to identify that he will no longer accept payments for weddings at city hall and bringing other groups into the discussion was unnecessary.

"I took exception to the mayor's comments regarding our LGBTQ community, our gay community ... why he identified these communities and brought them into discussion, I have no idea, and I found it personally offensive."

Moving forward

Ellsworth knows that many people have lost confidence in city council and he hopes the weekend meeting will lead to some real changes to regain it.

"We need to be held to the same standard as our employees and at this point we're not, and we need to change that," he told CBC.

"I will use all my efforts to see if we can bring council together ... we're elected to govern this capital city and we need to get back to governing this capital city."

With files from Mark Quinn