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Avondale running on a council of two after budget meeting blowup

By Chad Feehan / Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Town of Avondale has been down a mayor, deputy mayor, councillor, and town clerk for much of 2024, and has just recently advertised a part-time maintenance worker job posting, bringing the total number of town positions in limbo to five.
The trouble appears to have started just before Christmas when a group of members from the Avondale Volunteer Fire Department attended a council meeting and debated the Town’s 2024 budget priorities with council and staff.

After the meeting, Town Manager Karen McGrath, who had been with the Town for seven years, submitted her resignation, which triggered a series of resignations on council, leaving Avondale with just two remaining councillors and three vacant seats at the table, including the mayor’s and deputy mayor’s positions, and a councillor’s position.

McGrath declined an interview with The Shoreline.
Tom Cantwell, one of the two councillors still in place, allowed the Fire Department members did seem intimidating.
“The clerk did feel intimidated by it,” said Cantwell. “The mayor never stopped it. The clerk asked the mayor several times to stop what was happening. He didn’t…. The mayor didn’t question why she was leaving, or anything else.”
Shortly after McGrath’s resignation, part-time clerk Stephanie Stanley went on maternity leave.
The next month, following a private meeting in the chamber, Cantwell submitted his resignation after then Mayor Owen Mahoney refused Cantwell’s request that he resign. Deputy Mayor Don Lewis and Councillor Chris Chaulk followed suit and also resigned.
That left Mayor Mahoney and Councillor Neil Baker as the only remaining members of council.
Cantwell said Mahoney then did a quick one-eighty, resigning himself and formally requesting that Cantwell, Chaulk and Lewis rescind their resignations.
“We did rescind… went back, tried to function as normal as best we could without a clerk at the time,” Cantwell said.
Efforts were made to hire a new Town Clerk, he added, but were unsuccessful.
Then on February 8th, the Town’s Operations Manager went on a three-week sick leave a week before a major storm, and the Town’s maintenance worker resigned in the middle of the following week, forcing council to order a temporary boil water advisory.
The Town’s previous operations manager, Marty Moore, agreed to come out of retirement at Cantwell’s request to help out with water testing and snow clearing. He appeared under contract from Buckle’s Contracting but using Town equipment.
The next disruption came when councillor Baker resigned. That was followed by Deputy Mayor Lewis resigning for the second time on February 17.Lewis said he looks back fondly on his last few years in office but doesn’t see a point in putting time and energy into council without a clerk, a role he described as essential to the running of a small town.
“Without a clerk you couldn’t have a meeting,” said Lewis. “Without a clerk you couldn’t interview anyone (for positions). So that left us stranded.”
Two applications were received for the clerk’s job, but nobody was hired.

“That’s probably what brought everything to a kind of a head,” Lewis said, adding he would have stayed on council if it had managed to hire a clerk.
“Without a clerk you can’t run a town,” he said. “We advertised last time for the position of manager, and that week I got frustrated. I couldn’t see any future with it because we couldn’t get a clerk.”
The Department of Municipal Affairs has given the two remaining members of council, Cantwell and Chaulk, permission to conduct Town business without quorum while they try to find a new clerk or manager and hold a by-election to fill the open seats on council.

McGrath has agreed to work two nights a week in the Town’s office in a strictly clerical role to help council get through the crisis.
Cantwell said he expects the town to run “business as usual” until the byelection on the 30th of this month.

“We have ministerial approval for myself and councillor Chaulk to keep the town running, making decisions for the town,” he said. “Other than that, everything is normal until we get a new councillor in place and a clerk.”

Lewis, meanwhile, admitted he is not ruling out putting his name on the ballot for the byelection.

Neither former Mayor Mahoney, or Fire Chief Chad Costello could be reached for comment.

Former councillor Baker declined an interview.

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