Carbonear council sees the lights on mayor’s conflict of interest question

By Craig Westcott/November 11, 2021

A motion to buy Christmas ornaments for some of the streetlights on Water Street had councillor Danielle Doyle and Mayor Frank Butt discussing potential conflict of interest at Carbonear council last week. 

The incident began with chief administrative officer Cynthia Davis asking council for approval to buy 10 snowflake lights at a cost of $7,950 + HST to adorn poles on the newly refurbished section of Water Street.

That led Mayor Butt to ask whether he was in a conflict of interest on the matter. He owns a convenience store and gas bar in Powell Plaza, which is located off Water Street.

Davis didn’t answer directly. She said if the snowflakes arrive in time for Christmas, they will be added to the poles that didn’t get snowflake lights last year. If they come later, they will likely be attached to new poles planned for further along Water Street as phases two and three of the street’s refurbishment are eventually completed. The plan is to one day be able to run the snowflake lights at Christmas from the beginning of Water Street to where it intersects with Church Road.

“We would budget again next year for another allotment, and that would kind of complete the whole street once all our streetlights are in,” Davis said. “We can only put them on the new streetlights that we put in, they are not permitted to be put on Newfoundland Power poles. But we have our own streetlights now with electrical outlets on them so we can plug in these lights.”

That led Mayor Butt to ask again, “Would I be in conflict on that?”

Davis told Butt that if he is unsure, the legislation requires that he ask council for its opinion.

So, Butt did just that.

“Why would you feel that you may be (in conflict)?” asked Deputy Mayor Sam Slade.

“I don’t know,” said Butt. “It’s downtown.”

Butt was referring to an incident that happened early in his first term as mayor four years ago, when he was accused of being in a conflict of interest for participating in a 2014 vote on the demolition of an old building on Water Street. The accusation, made in a letter delivered to council from an anonymous source, was that Butt was in a conflict of interest because his business stood to benefit from having the eyesore torn down. His colleagues at the time, including Doyle, voted to kick him off council after discussions with the town’s lawyer. A Supreme Court judge ordered his reinstatement when Butt took the matter to court.

Slade wasn’t on council at that time. “I don’t understand why you would feel you are in conflict (on this issue),” he said.

“I don’t feel (that I am), I’m just asking,” Butt replied.

“Well, I certainly don’t feel that you are in conflict,” Slade said. “I mean the street is the street. What would that have to do with you?”

That’s when Doyle weighed in. “I don’t think you are in conflict on the lights,” she said. “You are in conflict on phase one of that street – you’ve already discussed that numerous times. But on Christmas lights in particular? I think you’re not.”

“I agree with you there,” said councillor Chris O’Grady.

Doyle then moved that the mayor was not in conflict on the Christmas lights discussion.

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