M&CC votes to keep parking meters …seeking legal advice on suspension order

City Councillors on Monday voted against the suspension of the parking meters project and instead opted to wait on legal advice first before carrying out a Cabinet order (Samuel Maughn photo)

MAJORITY of city councillors on Monday voted in favour of a motion that sought to defy Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan’s “order” to have the parking meter by-laws suspended for three months.

The councillors, who did so on the basis of a document containing legal advice that was sought to counteract the minister’s order, felt they needed time to “study” such advice.

Hence, the purpose of the extraordinary statutory meeting that was called yesterday, with the original intention of city councillors deciding to implement the minister’s recommendation, could not be achieved.

In deciding how much time the councillors will be facilitated to peruse the four-page document, Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan, who chaired the meeting as Acting Mayor, said it seems that the issue is not one that is as urgent as Town Clerk Royston King told him it was. For this reason, he fixed the next meeting for Monday when Mayor Patricia Chase-Green will be presiding.

From now to Monday, when asked what is the position of Smart City Solutions (SCS), King would only tell this newspaper: “The Council has not given any new or further direction to SCS. We have a contract that is in force.” This essentially means that motorists should continue to pay for parking and that enforcement measures will continue to be applied.

In an interview with this paper on Saturday, Duncan had expressed confidence that no one would oppose the advice of Cabinet, which would have resulted, yesterday, in the suspension of the by-laws.

City Councillors meeting on Monday

He reasoned that since APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) councillors represent the majority in the Council, there could not have been any other outcome, other than them following through with the minister’s advice.

According to the legal advice City Hall received from lawyer Roger Yearwood, though, who is incidentally working in the same Chamber as those representing Smart City Solutions (SCS), the Municipal and District Councils Act “does not permit the honourable minister to direct the council to suspend any contract or by-laws enacted by it as the honourable minister purports to do by his order dated 17th day of March, 2017.”

Yearwood continued in the document that it is important to note that the minister’s order does not suspend the by-laws, but directs the council to do so. “As such, if the council accedes to this mandate, it is the Act of the Council that will be effective to suspend the by-laws and not the order of the honourable minister. This would necessarily leave the Council susceptible to a claim for breach of contract by Smart City Solutions (SCS).”

Before the minister’s direction, Town Clerk Royston King had written to Minister Bulkan asking him to consider that there is no provision in the contract between M&CC and SCS to suspend it in part or in its entirety. “The suspension of the contract operates as a breach of contract and would therefore trigger the compensation clause.”
At the start of yesterday’s meeting, APNU Councillor, Heston Bostwick, moved a motion requesting that city councillors be granted time to study the legal advice, and for a copy of it to be forwarded to Minister Bulkan.

Those who voted in favour of Bostwick’s motion are Councillors Chow-Chee, Oscar Clarke, Welton Clarke, Yvonne Ferguson, Junior Garrett, Gregory Fraser, Andrea Marks, Linda Gomes-Haley, Winston Harding, Linden Hilliman, Ivelaw Henry, Desiree Liverpool, Ron Persaud, Trichria Richards, James Samuels, and Monica Thomas.

Those who opposed the motion were Councillors Selwyn Smartt, Lionel Jaikarran, Bishram Kuppen, Alfred Mentore, Akeem Peter, Phillip Smith and Sherod Duncan. Abstaining were Carlyle Goring and Sophia Whyte.

Chairman of the Finance Committee Oscar Clarke, who is also the General Secretary of the People’s National Congress (PNC), offered that after the minister communicated Cabinet’s recommendation, City Council thought it necessary to seek legal advice.

This, he said, is due to the fact that the decision regarding parking meters has to be taken by the Council and not the minister.

Clarke said it is clear that everyone will want to know of the legal implications of suspending the by-laws, including Minister Bulkan himself. He said the City Council will not want to follow the route that Cabinet has recommended without legal advice.

Deputy Mayor-elect Lionel Jaikarran referred to Minister Bulkan’s words that he was ‘directing’ the council to suspend the by-laws and not merely requesting it to do so.

Jaikarran added that the minister did not make the decision on his own, but sought Cabinet’s intervention. He went further to note that even President Granger was part of the decision relayed to City Council. “Why are we going against Cabinet? Are we being contemptuous of the Cabinet?”

Other Councillor Bishram Kuppen similarly referred to the fact that the minister “directed” the council to suspend the by-laws following consultations with legal experts. The Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs, he noted, had also looked at it.