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Do the right thing

It appears the elephant won’t leave the room at Grand Falls-Windsor council chambers until late October. Ever since sitting Mayor Al Hawkins won the Liberal nomination for the upcoming provincial election, locals have wondered when he would take a leave of absence.

Hawkins announced with little fanfare during Tuesday’s regular council meeting he will be requesting “an early leave” once the federal election is over.

Early is not exactly how many observers would describe it.

Hawkins has pointed out on a number of occasions he was free to stay as long as he likes, that the Municipalities Act allows him to. In fact, he noted the act allows him to sit as a councillor even after he is elected to the House of Assembly, if that is indeed the final outcome.

Staying on may be legal, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

In fact, his own council isn’t convinced it’s right.

Council is preparing a resolution for the next meetings of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador to have it lobby the province for some clarity on the section of the act that covers the possible conflict of interest for sitting councillors seeking provincial or federal seats.

Council even sought a legal opinion on the matter. So, the elephant is clearly in the room.

There has been public criticism of Hawkins’ lingering, including claim the obvious connection to his position and authority as mayor brings the integrity of the office into question.

In fact, the entire council’s integrity has been called into question for not insisting the mayor take a leave of absence, as was the case in Marystown.

That uncomfortable, and compromised, position of all those sitting around the table reared its ugly head on at least a couple of junctures during Tuesday’s meeting.

In presenting a committee report, Deputy Mayor Barry Manuel outlined some items from a list of 14 issues council is preparing to submit to each of the provincial parties and their local candidates.

That means the mayor of Grand Falls-Windsor is helping orchestrate an official position for this town on matters he will be called upon to respond to from another level of political interest and be expected to remain unbiased in his responses.

For his own political interest (whether it turns out to be short or long term), he is playing a game of political poker and placing his own council — not to mention the political party he represents — in an uncomfortable and compromised position.

Another topic of discussion from the meeting shone a spotlight on the potential for inefficiency in Hawkins’ choice to linger.

Traditionally, the standing committees of council are reworked at the half-way mark of a term – right about now for this current group.

Tradition would also dictate this changeover would happen as close to the half-way mark as possible because there is a feeling-out process for councillors taking on new responsibilities and time is of the essence.

Hawkins was the only councillor to speak on the decision to delay the committee shuffle this year. In fairness, he did point out the notion to do so was supported unanimously during a committee of the whole meeting.

There is a saying that what is perceived is often believed, and to those on the outside of council looking in, there is a perception that by continuing to sit as mayor while campaigning for a provincial seat, Hawkins risks stunting the momentum of a busy and seemingly productive leadership group.

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball has stated his party has no policy to dictate whether any of their candidates are to vacate other positions, and there is no intention to force the hand of anyone.

Sometimes, decisions need to be driven by more than what’s legislated or covered in policy. Sometimes, it’s just right to do the right thing.

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