Law firm hired to review conflict of interest claim

Marystown council seeking legal opinion on allegation against mayor

Paul Herridge editor@southerngazette.ca
Published on September 17, 2015
Town of Marystown

Marystown town council is bringing in St. John’s law firm Goodland O’Flaherty to review a conflict of interest allegation against Mayor Sam Synard.

Council is asking the firm for a legal opinion on whether Synard was in conflict last year during a discussion related to the installation of a sewer line to property registered in the name of a person related to the mayor.

The motion also calls for the law firm to discuss the situation during which the comments were made with council as a whole, as there is no record of the conversation.

The motion, which passed unanimously, was tabled by Coun. Leonard Pittman.

Before doing so, council voted to withdraw Pittman’s notice of motion calling on Synard to vacate the mayor’s chair for not declaring the alleged conflict, a move Pittman said was based on a recommendation from a representative of the Department of Municipal Affairs.

The department met with the town this month following a tumultuous couple of days during which Synard called the council “dysfunctional” and said the minister should consider dissolving the group.

Witch hunt

When Synard returned to the council chambers following the successful motion, he briefly addressed the allegation against him before the meeting was adjourned, emphasizing he was not in a conflict and thanking the community for the support he has received.

“We cannot keep moving forward if there is an ongoing witch hunt for the last two years. It has to stop,” Synard said.

“I agree 100 per cent and when the minutes of March the 2nd are adopted, finally, I think people in this town will be able to read and see for themselves,” Pittman responded.

The minutes in question are for a privileged meeting that took place this past winter. Pittman tabled a motion back in May asking that any reference to a private individual’s name be removed from the document before they are passed. Council is waiting for a response from the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Office.

Council's spokesperson

Tuesday night’s council meeting was quiet and respectful up until the very end, during general business, when Pittman brought up comments Synard made on an open line radio show about the meeting with government.

Pittman said the mayor suggested Municipal Affairs saw no indications of any conflicts. The department, however, was looking for evidence to support the mayor’s dysfunction claim, not conflict of interest, Pittman claimed.

That eventually turned into a debate about the mayor’s role as a spokesperson for council.

Coun. Lisa Slaney said she confirmed with a department official the mayor should have the approval of the majority of council to speak on its behalf. That has not been the case, particularly of late, she said.

“In that instant, when you can go out and say we’re dysfunctional, someone needs to say, ‘Hello sir, we need to reign you in a little bit.’ Because we’re all responsible for what comes out of your mouth when you go out in public,” Slaney said.

Not long after, Pittman introduced a motion that called for council to first be in agreement before any media interactions and also for the mayor to be replaced by another spokesperson if the rule is broken.

“You cannot muzzle the mayor,” Synard said, suggesting any motion would be unenforceable.

It was unclear what happened — the motion appeared to get lost in the mix without a seconder.

The Department of Municipal Affairs has yet to provide a response to The Southern Gazette’s request for comment on its meeting with the town.

Kevin Guest, the department’s director of communications, said Wednesday officials were in the process of preparing a letter to council as a follow-up to this month’s meeting and would respond once it’s sent.

Dysfunction claims

Deputy Mayor Al Spencer, meanwhile, spoke up during the meeting against Synard’s claims of dysfunction, saying he was taken aback.

Spencer was out of the province for the previous meeting and the immediate aftermath.

“Personally, I take great offence at being labelled as dysfunctional and that I don’t understand compliance and Robert’s Rules of Order and all of that kind of stuff,” Spencer said, later adding he had calls from work colleagues wondering what was happening.

“To have my professional reputation thrown out across the floor … I’ve got an issue with it, I got a big, big, big issue with it,” he said.

“You’ve got issues with it, I should have issues with it, Mr. Deputy Mayor,” Synard said.

pherridge@southerngazette.ca