Rudderless Town of Come By Chance to fill empty council seats in June 28 election

·5 min read
Keith Best, left, and Lew Baker are two of the four councillors in the Town of Come By Chance who had their seats vacated in early February for an alleged conflict of interest. A fifth councillor was dismissed last fall because of an alleged violation of residency rules. All five are appealing their dismissals to Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Keith Best, left, and Lew Baker are two of the four councillors in the Town of Come By Chance who had their seats vacated in early February for an alleged conflict of interest. A fifth councillor was dismissed last fall because of an alleged violation of residency rules. All five are appealing their dismissals to Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)

The Town of Come By Chance, which has been without an elected council for months — and has been in the grips of controversy for even longer — has been given approval by the provincial government to hold a special election.

The vote will take place as five former elected leaders continue the process of appealing their dismissal from the town council, which means their seats may be filled before they have their day in court.

Town manager Colin Holloway, who was not permitted to do an interview, confirmed in a statement to CBC News that an election for a seven-member town council will take place June 28, with the deadline for nominations at 8 p.m. on June 7.

Since March 22, the affairs of the Placentia Bay town of just over 200 residents, and its operating budget of more than $1.2 million — considerably larger than most towns of similar size — has been managed by a provincial government bureaucrat, Christopher Stamp.

According to Holloway's statement, Stamp's mandate will be revoked only if a quorum of four or more citizens are sworn in as town councillors.

Despite the absence of any elected leadership, Holloway's statement says, "Everything at the town hall is operating normally and services are being provided to the community."

Town of Come by Chance/Facebook
Town of Come by Chance/Facebook

All decisions made by the town's staff have to be approved by Stamp, and then posted on the town's Facebook page.

As administrator, Stamp can exercise the same powers and authority of the town council, and is subject to the restrictions and responsibilities of the council, Holloway wrote.

The new election comes after months of turmoil in Come By Chance, with all of the seven town councillors elected in September either having their seats declared vacant because of alleged violations of the Municipalities Act, or quitting out of frustration or because they no longer met the criteria for serving on council.

Municipal Affairs Minister Krista Lynn Howell was not available for an interview, but a spokesperson for the department wrote in an email that assisting the town has been a priority for the department.

"We consider the matter of any town not having a fully functioning council a serious situation, as it is important that the town have an elected town council with full decision-making authority. The residents of Come By Chance have a right to a duly elected council as part of the democratic process while the matter of an appeal progresses through the court," the email states.

According to election rules, a byelection must be held within three months of a council seat being vacated.

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

The upcoming election sets the stage for more uncertainty for the five former town councillors who were dismissed, since they are appealing their terminations to the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, with a court date set for early November.

In early February, former mayor Keith Best, former deputy mayor Ralph Slade and former councillors Matt Best and Lew Baker were dismissed for an alleged conflict involving a vote to begin the expropriation process for a waterfront access road.

Keith Best and Baker are members of a boat owners association that operates a marina along the road. In the past, this association has received funding from the town. Keith Best and Baker also own private wharfs along the road, which is owned by a company called Asphalt Product Industries.

The expropriation process began after API gated off the road, forcing marina users to walk to their boats.

Matt Best is Keith Best's son, and Ralph Slade is Lew Baker's son-in-law.

All four councillors voted in favour of expropriating the road at an appraised price of $8,800 at an October council meeting, despite being cautioned by Holloway that they may be in a conflict of interest.

An investigation determined that all four were in conflict, and their seats were vacated Feb. 3.

According to Section 207 of the Municipalities Act, it is improper for an elected municipal leader to vote or speak on a matter in which a councillor has a monetary interest. The same goes for a councillor who is a member of an association that has a matter before council, and has a monetary interest in that matter.

What's more, the act says a councillor cannot vote or discuss a matter in which a relative of the councillor has a monetary interest.

Municipal Election Act states that an individual who has had their seat vacated due to conflict of interest is prohibited from running for election for two years.

Meanwhile, Carol Molloy, who is engaged to Matt Best, was dismissed last fall because it was determined she did not meet residency requirements. She is also appealing her dismissal.

Kim Downey resigned in December after taking up residence in another community.

The last member of council, Kathy Paul, who succeeded Keith Best as mayor, quit amid an uproar on Feb. 15 after delivering the report that recommended that the seats of her four fellow councillors be vacated.

The five dismissed councillors are represented by St. John's lawyer Alex Templeton, and initially agreed to an interview with CBC News on Wednesday to explain why they felt they were wrongly dismissed.

However, they decided to remain silent on the matter after learning that an election date has been set.

Templeton confirmed his clients are hoping for an exemption to the rules that prevent them from running in an election for two years, so some or all of them can put their names on the ballot for the June 28 vote and avoid a costly legal battle. However, such an exemption would be contravene Section 15 of the Municipal Election Act.

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