Councillors turn the screws on top city officers City Council Roundup
by Cecil Griffith
Stabroek News
February 11, 2002

The adjourned statutory meeting of the Georgetown City Council held last Monday, once again brought to the fore serious deficiencies in the administration of City Hall.

Town Clerk Beulah Williams was under constant pressure while defending not only her handling of issues as chief executive officer (CEO) but also the performance of the Chief Constable, the Public Relations Officer (PRO), the Personnel Officer and the City Treasurer.

The work performance of these officers was the centre piece of the debate by city 'fathers' and 'mothers' with little time being left for weighty matters which were on the agenda and which were not completed during the last statutory sitting on January 28th.

It started with the Chief Constable - who was absent and her deputy having to hold the fort - together with the Town Clerk at the receiving end of some scathing criticism for not observing basic procedures in the investigations into the breakage of a stall at the Bourda market last year.

Two constables have been charged by the police with the theft of a quantity of cell phones valued at more than $300,000.

Deputy Mayor Robert Williams told the meeting that a key witness to the breakage had not been approached by the investigating arm of the constabulary to give a statement and wondered if this is the way the city police conducts investigations. According to the Deputy Mayor if the suspects were members of the public it would have been a different story. The leader of the People's National Congress/R faction on the council Oscar Clarke said the investigating ranks should be brought before the council.

The Town Clerk disclosed to the meeting that an internal investigation into the theft is being conducted by the Chief Constable.

The dragline fiasco

The Chief Constable was again taken to task for the way in which the investigation into a dragline accident on Homestretch Avenue was handled. The dragline owned by the council and worth some $3M was left on the avenue during the night without the necessary traffic warning signs in place. This resulted in a privately owned driven car crashing into the dragline. It was later discovered that the security guard who should have been on duty was not there, and subsequently, enquiries about his status with the constabulary revealed that immediately after the accident the guard had not reported for work but was still on the payroll.

At the meeting last Monday on a motion by People's Progressive Party/C councillor Rudolph Harris seconded by Good and Green, Guyana, councillor Harold Kissoon it was decided to dismiss the guard.

The opportunity was also taken by some councillors from the three political parties represented on the council to comment on the lack of proper procedures in the Personnel Department for dealing with personnel matters especially up to date records on staff.

The mystery letter

Mystery surrounds a letter sent by the City Treasurer since last year to the Secretary to the Treasury in connection with the waiving of duty-free concessions for two vehicles to be used by City Hall.

When the treasurer was summoned by Mayor Green to explain the delay in getting the concessions from the government his reply was he had sent the letter and had followed it up with a telephone conversation with a secretary at the Finance Ministry. The city 'fathers' and 'mothers' were not comfortable with this response from the City Treasurer and he was instructed to produce a copy of what he had sent to the Secretary to the Treasury.

A search by subordinate staff in the treasurer's department proved to be futile and even when the budget officer was summoned to appear before the council she did not respond.

The stage was now set for a confrontation between the council and this senior officer who continued to receive the backing of the Town Clerk, after she disclosed when asked by the mayor, that the City Treasurer had returned to his office which is situated below the council chamber to search more diligently for a copy of the letter.

Discussions on other matters were suspended for a short while and after some 15 minutes had elapsed councillors agreed to continue with the agenda at hand, as they anxiously awaited the return to the chamber of the City Treasurer.

Minutes before his reappearance at the meeting several councillors informed the mayor, after they had made their own checks outside, that the City Treasurer was seen in a vehicle driving into the City Hall compound. Their conclusions were he had left without the consent of the council and even the Town Clerk. He was away for about 45 minutes.

Making his second appearance before councillors, the City Treasurer, Mr Roderick Edinboro announced that he had failed to retrieve the copy of the letter, explaining that water from a leaking pipe overnight had damaged several documents in the treasurer's office a few days ago and most likely the 'letter' was among those.

Mayor Green wanted to know why important documents are being left on the office floor. PNC/R councillor Patricia Woolford expressed surprise at the treasurer's explanation by referring to statements made in the council last year, that the treasurer's department had been computerised... "obviously the copy would still be in the computer?..." she queried... the treasurer's reply was that the computers were not operational.

The PNC/R councillor was congratulated by the mayor for her perspicacity. The City Treasurer returned to his seat with the other senior officers.

Mayor Green, while consoling himself with a quote from Saint Francis of Assisi and at the same time attempting to soothe the tempers of his colleagues around the horseshoe table, related how he had approached both the Minister of Finance Saisnarine Kowlessar and President Bharrat Jagdeo seeking their intervention in the matter.

He is yet to receive the relevant information from the City Treasurer which would inform him when he approaches the government for duty-free concessions on the two vehicles.

What the Mayor said

The failure by the Public Relations Officer Mr Royston King to locate a television recording by the Mayor in which it is alleged he libelled a leading city attorney-at-law, did not escape the wrath of some councillors at last Monday's adjourned meeting.

The issue surrounds a letter from the aggrieved lawyer and a follow up memo from the 'chief citizen' in which he is seeking the attention and involvement of the city council in the matter.

The Town Clerk after receiving a statement of claim from the aggrieved lawyer and a statement of defence from the Mayor's attorneys has advised the legal affairs/security committee to take note of the letter written to her last month.

At a previous meeting the Town Clerk has raised doubts about the council getting involved in the court matter, when it could not be determined whether the statement which is being objected to by the lawyer "emanated from the mayoral broadcast and what was the statement."

With the mayor describing the issue as one with fundamental, legal moral, ethical and administrative implications, declared "this is absurd to the core". When he asked the Town Clerk if she had sought advice from the council's official legal adviser on the matter, she replied no, she had made her own judgement.

The PRO in his explanation to the meeting said he had been unable to locate the tape from the television outlet that had carried the broadcast and he is still following up his enquiries. This officer was unaware of what the Mayor said on the tape and when it was made. GGG councillor Pat Chase-Green demanded that the Town Clerk and the PRO provide a copy of the tape at the earliest opportunity. The Deputy Mayor berated the PRO for not dealing with broadcasts made by the Mayor both on radio and television in a professional manner. When he was mayor the PRO had to be at his side whenever he spoke as the political head of the council.

The chairman of the Legal Affairs/Security committee attorney-at-law C.M.L. John said this committee was never in possession of the tape "with the alleged remarks" by the Mayor "we do not know what was said all we know is what is contained in the lawyer's letter."

Councillor Oscar Clarke declared that "once again the council is being called upon to take a decision without getting all the information must go back to the committee."

The leader of the PPP/C group, councillor Fitzgerald Agard wants the council's legal adviser to be called in.

An officer of the city has also been mentioned in another matter which is before councillor John's committee with attention being paid to injunctions against City Hall. It relates to taxes owed to the council by a city businessman who claims that the officer had undertaken to have the interest he owes on taxes amounting to nearly $10M waived. The goings on at City Hall which were revealed during the past two meetings brought into focus the onerous responsibilities which devolve on the person performing the duties of Town Clerk or to be more precise, the office of City Clerk.

This officer not only has to deal with the departments mentioned in this round up but also those which fall under the clerk of markets, there are five in addition to the pavement vendors and those on the Mall, the chief medical officer, who has to grapple with garbage, the operations of the abattoir, day care centres and general sanitation in the capital.

One of the biggest sections is the City Engineer's Department which oversees road works, building plans, the Promenade Gardens, the mechanical workshop and the cemetery. At statutory meetings the Town Clerk is expected to answer all questions with help from these officers.

The holder of office of Town Clerk also has to take the lead role in face-to-face discussions with the government and international agencies on a wide range of "matters municipal."