Cornelius Alvin Smith Jr had teamed up with well know business man, Philip Franks. Both ran as a team ticket for Freeport City Council. Smith is pictured with his wife, daughter and supporters. His running mate Philip Franks and his wife are on his right. Earlier this year BP exposed Franks for his shady Insurance operation. And now today concerns arise from the Freeport Council. [file Photo]
By: Forrester J Carroll J.P/Contributing Writer
BP Freeport Wire Service
Freeport, Grand Bahama – City of Freeport Chief councilor, Alvin Smith, is under fire again; only this time the fire is coming from his Deputy Chief Councilor, Mrs. Joanna Newton-Russell.
In a letter, to the Minister of State for local government the Hon. Byron Woodside, dated 17th September 2009, the Deputy Chief Councilor aired her concerns as to the sad state of affairs at the City of Freeport Council, after only fifteen months into their term in office, and the direction in which the Council seems to be drifting, under the guardianship of Mr. Alvin Smith. Mrs. Newton-Russell, in laying out her case against Chief Councilor Smith, told the Minister, “I humbly request that there be some intervention and redirection of this administration before further damage is done to the institution of local government. As the deputy Chief Councilor, there is no consultation with myself on any matters pertaining to the administration of the Council” unquote. She requested the Minister convene a meeting with the entire Council Body, as a matter of urgency, to obviously address this crisis situation.
In detailing some of her grievances, Mrs. Newton-Russell made the case very succinctly, against the Chief Councilor. She cited a number of anomalies, among them the following:
- 1) The Council awarded a contract for the Richard Gaitor Park conversion project. The Chief Councilor, on his own and without consultation with the entire council, aborted the contract and entered into negotiations with another party. It resulted in much delay and chaos. To date, a year later and with a new contractor in place, the project remains incomplete and the contractor in breach of his contract. The work should have been completed since 30th June 2009.
- 2) The Deputy Chairman of the “Susan J Wallace Community Center” was given permission to use the center, without paying a fee, on Saturdays. This individual, who operates a computer repair company, was also given a contract to repair the computer system at the center. The individual, it is believed, was privy to quotes submitted prior by certain others, before sending in his/her bid at $25.00 less than the lowest one received; clearly a case of conflict of interest and nepotism.
- 3) While given the authority to approve expenditure, for incidentals during the CLGF Conference, of up to but not exceeding more than $1000.00 without requiring the prior approval of Council, the Chief Councilor exceeded his authority, in this regard, on many occasions, spending up to $2400.00 on one occasion.
- 4) The Arden Forest Park debacle already aired in the public domain, through the print media, was another occasion when the Chief Councilor exceeded his authority, according to the Deputy Chief. The Deputy Chief Councilor charges, in her letter to the state minister, that the Chief Councilor misled the Council into believing that the Arden Forest Park was on the drawing board since 1996 but she insisted that this was not the truth. She substantiated what her colleague councilor, for Marco City, accused Mr. Alvin Smith of doing and that is the spending of $10,000.00 of Taxpayers money without the proper appropriation guidelines being followed according to the law. To date, she said, the funds were expended, but no supporting documentation or memo of understanding tendered for council’s information as of yet.
- 5) The council approved an amount of $5000.00 for the “Over the Horizon Book Center” reading program. To date no partnership documentation, explaining how the funds were to be spent, has been received. A cheque was issued, eventually, to the Organizers for $3000.00 but no inventory was ever taken on the books purchased and no invoices were provided council to confirm that the actual purchase took place.
- 6) A preferred and favorite employee was given a salary increase of $3000.00, citing the employee’s pursuit of a degree as the reason for the increase.
- 7) Four councilors attending a meeting took the decision to suspend the employees savings plan without consultation with the employees. Two councilors voted for the suspension and two voted against the measure. The Chief Councilor cast the deciding tie-breaking vote to suspend the plan.
- 8) Instructors’ stipend payments were reduced by a decision made, unilaterally, by the Chief Councilor, without notice or discussion with the full compliment of the City of Freeport Council, and the list of grievances goes on.
The Deputy Chief went on to accuse the Chief Councilor of taking random signature polls, securing permission from select councilors, outside of council meetings, for the disbursement of funds and often without having the matters ratified by council. Communications are often sent out on behalf of council without consent or the knowledge of the Council. Caucus meetings are held with select councilors; decisions made and signed off via poll, while other councilors are unaware of what’s happening. The deputy Chief further charges the Chief Councilor of running a one-man show where he manipulates all decisions, motions and approvals.
The Chief Councilor seems to be establishing a pattern here, where he assumes that he can do anything and or make any decision, unilaterally, without consequences to his position. The scandal, exposed a couple weeks ago, where he was accused by Councilor Kevin Ferguson, of the Marco City constituency, of unilaterally authorizing the expenditure of $20,000.00: $10,000.00 of which was, allegedly, spent without the Council’s approval or knowledge, substantiates that fact without question.
This latest round of charges, leveled against the Chief Councilor, are not to be ignored and I now call on the system to require Mr. Alvin Smith to defend himself to the satisfaction of an independent ethics committee (If there is such an animal in place) or, alternatively, to do the honorable thing and resign in the public’s interest, forthwith. The Minister Of State, for local government, wasted no time in coming to Alvin’s defense when the aforementioned, Arden Forest Park scandal came to light several weeks ago and I am wondering; will he, now, do so again, blindly? You should know that the Minister defended Mr. Smith without any kind of consultation with the Administrator, Mr. Alexander Williams, at the time. He never made an effort to determine the facts before jumping to his conclusions that the Chief Councilor did nothing wrong. His attitude being that they are all FNMs and should be defended at all cost, notwithstanding the facts.
I echo the sentiments of the Deputy Chief Councilor; intervene and redirect the affairs of the City of Freeport Council before further damage is done to the institution of local government.