By Craig Westcott/September 30, 2022
The hiring of a councillor to the position of Facility Manager at the Danny Cleary Community Centre appears to have opened the first significant fissure inside the new Harbour Grace council.
Mayor Don Coombs called a special meeting Wednesday to vote on whether to hire Sharon Reynolds for the Town job and given the tenor of the first minutes of debate, it wasn’t clear the motion would receive the two thirds endorsement of members needed to pass. But in the end, the vote went 4-2 in Reynolds’ favour.
The first indication of the surprise hiring occurred at the very beginning of the meeting when Coombs called attendance and Reynolds was the only councillor absent.
Coombs then called the meeting to order and laid out the only item on the agenda, as some 48 people watched the proceedings online.
“Back on July 22 the Town of Harbour Grace hired LW Consulting to look at the replacement of our facility manager,” Coombs said, “Our previous facility manager took a leave from the Town to seek better opportunities for himself, and recommendations came back, and all councillors have those recommendations.”
Coombs then asked for a motion to proceed with the hiring, or not.
Deputy Mayor Keith Skinner then moved to go ahead with the hiring.
“I would like to make the motion recommending that council proceed to confirm the appointment of Mrs. Sharon Reynolds to the position of Facility Manger at the Danny Cleary Harbour Grace Community (Centre) as recommended by LW Consulting, a firm hired by council to review the applications, to conduct the interviews and make recommendations in selecting the most appropriate candidate as per the Town of Harbour Grace’s conditions of employment and policy manual,” Skinner said.
Councillor Gordon Stone seconded the motion.
The mayor then called for discussion. Councillor Brendan Chafe was the first to raise a hand.
“Mr. Mayor, I’d like to have a quick little chat there for a second,” said Chafe. “I guess going through the process with all of this as a councillor, we went out to a third party to do our work for us, I suppose, so to speak, and at the end of the day it’s kind of hard to figure out how to navigate which way to go with all this. I’d just like to put that in the public record that we did go through a third party with it, and that’s all I have to say.”
Councllor Lee Rogers sounded more forthright about how he saw the decision.
“Last year when I decided to run for council, I made a promise to myself and to every single person that I spoke to that I would vote the right way and vote for what I felt was right,” Rogers said. “Unfortunately, tonight sir, I do not feel this is the right decision and I will be voting that way.”
Coombs said he respected everyone’s opinion. “That’s what democracy is about,” he said. “And I respect your opinion, councillor Lee.”
He then asked councillor Randy Wrice for his view.
“Yes, Mr. Mayor, I was elected by the people to make correct and concrete financial decisions for the betterment of Harbour Grace,” Wrice said. “Going on my gut instinct and morals and because of interference of sorts in the hiring process – and I have information I know personally as a councillor for the Town of Harbour Grace – I cannot support the recommendation put forward.”
Coombs said for the purpose of providing information, he was supporting the hiring.
“We went through a process,” said the mayor. “It’s not nice especially when it’s a person you know who has served council, and if the vote goes through, I’ll wish the person all the best and thank all the applicants. And I thank LW Consulting for their input into this and their recommendations.”
Coombs then polled each councillor individually for their votes starting with Stone.
“I vote to support the motion,” said Stone.
Rogers and Wrice then registered their nays.
Next came Chafe. After some hesitation, in which it looked like he was struggling with the decision, Chafe said, “I vote to support the motion.”
Deputy Mayor Skinner also voted yes. With the mayor’s yea, that made the count 4-2 in favour of the hiring.
Coombs then read from a previously prepared resignation letter from the now former councillor Reynolds. In it, Reynolds thanked council and staff for their support and guidance over the past year, as well as the residents who voted for her last year. “I have enjoyed working alongside each of you just as much as I have enjoyed my time as a councillor,” she wrote. “Although I will no longer be an active member of council, I am hopeful that in my new position with the Town I will be able to continue to help Harbour Grace thrive with your support.”
Coombs said the hiring means the Town has lost a councillor and has 90 days to call a by-election.