Drama continues at Charlottetown City Hall

Careful consideration needed before province should wade into municipal waters

ANDY WALKER awalker@pei.sympatico.ca Andy Walker is a P.E.I.-based political commentator. His column appears every week in the Journal Pioneer



SaltWire Network



There are problems at Charlottetown City Hall. The headlines being generated from council chambers are more representative of a television mini-series than a functional municipal government. One councillor doesn't like the committee assignment he has been assigned and refuses to participate in meetings. Another writes an email talking about a "rat in the woodpile" and of course, there is the ongoing saga of CEO Peter Kelly. The former Halifax mayor was already operating under a dark cloud when he arrived in the capital in 2016. There were allegations of financial irregularities over money given to a concert promoter in 2011 in Halifax and he was making headlines for the way he handled the estate of a Bedford, N.S. woman. When he was hired in Charlottetown, he was under investigation in Westlock County, Alberta. That review found Kelly exceeded his authority by authorizing hundreds of thousands in spending without a resolution of the council. However, no charges were laid. Since arriving in Charlottetown, Kelly has fired two deputy chief administrative officers – Scott Messervey in 2019, and Tina Lococo last October. Both indicated their firing came after they raised concerns about financial matters with their boss. After the city council announced it was going to proceed with a job performance review that is already a year overdue, it has been reported that Kelly will be leaving the post. The city and its CAO are now in the process of negotiating a severance package that is rumoured to be in the sixfigure range. The provincial Green Party has been pressuring Communities Minister Jamie Fox to step in, with Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker noting the minister had no problem appointing a trustee in the Rural Municipality of Crapaud. However, Fox maintains there is a vast difference between the two issues. In Crapaud, there were not enough councillors willing to serve to carry on, while he described the Peter Kelly situation as a human resource issue between an employer and an employee. Fox urges Islanders to "take note" of the Green Party's stance when it comes to democracy at the municipal level across the province. He maintains, quite rightly, Charlottetown City Council is a duly elected body that has the authority to handle human resource issues and provide good governance to the city. Charlottetown-Victoria Park MLA Karla Bernard told the legislature the city council members need to be held accountable because they cannot be fired. That is not quite true. Anybody elected, regardless of the level of government, can only be fired by the voters. Mayor Philip Brown and the 10 councillors at city hall will be facing a very public job performance review Nov. 7 and those who feel they have failed to represent the best interest of the citizens can vote against them. While there are some problems in Charlottetown that need to be addressed immediately, the communities minister has taken the view the threshold should be high before the province interferes with a duly elected council. That level was met in Crapaud when there were not enough people around the council table to continue functioning. While the Green Party is correct the province could step in since all municipalities are ultimately under the jurisdiction of the province, stepping in and bypassing an elected council just because the government does not like what they are doing could set a dangerous precedent.