Second councillor quits in St George

  • Philip Seaman, former councillor at the Corporation of St George (File photograph)

    Philip Seaman, former councillor at the Corporation of St George (File photograph)

  • George Dowling, Mayor of St George (File photograph)

    George Dowling, Mayor of St George (File photograph)

A second councillor in St George has resigned over the leadership style of the town’s mayor.

Philip Seaman, a business ratepayers’ councillor for four years, stepped down in part over a decision by George Dowling this summer to open a pedestrianised section of Water Street to traffic without a council vote.

Mr Seaman, who said he had considered running for mayor before Mr Dowling put himself forward this year, said: “Water Street didn’t go to a vote and it contributed to my decision to step down, but I also had personal reasons. Others called for his resignation.

“The mayor called me and said he had decided to open up Water Street to vehicular traffic. I didn’t even have a chance to discuss it, he just told me.

“He doesn’t have the power to do that — the mayor has the deciding vote if it is a tie, but he thought he had the power to make decisions. I believe in a democratic process.”

The road was reopened to traffic on July 22, but the vehicle ban was put back in place a day later by acting mayor Lloyd Van Putten.

Tania Stafford stepped down over Mr Dowling’s controversial decision later that month.

Water Street had earlier been closed to traffic between 10am and 4pm in the summer months.

Mr Seaman said there were also “personal reasons” for his resignation earlier this month.

But he added that he could not live with Mr Dowling’s “Trump-like” leadership.

He highlighted that Mr Dowling’s family owns the Rubis Dowling’s Marine & Auto Service Station in Penno’s Drive, which could benefit from increased traffic on Water Street.

The Municipalities Act rules that corporation decisions should be decided by a majority vote among members at meetings.

The mayor, or the acting mayor, has a casting vote in the event of a tie.

Corporation of St George meeting minutes said: “The mayor reported that he erroneously did not seek a resolution and instructed CSG staff to open the road, resulting in the resignation of councillor Tania Stafford.”

Candy-Lee Foggo, the town manager and secretary for the corporation, added: “There was a learning curve that the mayor had to undergo. The mayor is ambitious and energetic and eager to drive change.

“In haste, he did not seek a resolution for Water Street. However, he did previously consult with his Infrastructure and Development Committee prior to taking the decision. The decision was not unilateral.”

Ms Stafford declined to comment on her decision to quit but confirmed her resignation in an online post at the time and added: “I believe in due process.”

Kristin White, who owns a Water Street bookshop and runs tours of the Olde Towne, said that businesses had been told that Water Street would be opened from Customs Square to Blacksmith’s Hill.

She added: “I knew there had not been any consultation with the businesses and that was my issue.”

The statement said that the stretch of the street between King’s Square and Customs Square would remain off limits to vehicles between 10am and 4pm.

Mr White said: “We had signed off on expanding the pedestrianised areas as part of the Bermuda Tourism Authority’s National Tourism Plan, so not only did he not consult with us, he went against what we had agreed.

“There is an aesthetic issue, but the main issue is safety — there are no sidewalks on Water Street and hundreds of people get off the ferry and walk down the road.”

She added: “Thankfully the corporation listened to the business’s feedback and reversed the decision within one day.”

Mr Seaman added that Mr Dowling also attempted to move replicas of stocks and a pillory, 18th-century punishments for petty offenders, from King’s Square to Ordnance Island despite a vote against it.

He added: “Another point was moving the stocks — the vote was defeated in a general meeting, but the mayor still instructed the town manager to submit the planning application. It was withdrawn after general membership and businesses were going to object.”

The Corporation of St George said that the planning application was for “sidewalk improvement”.

Ms Foggo said: “The application was withdrawn to allow further public consultation.”

Mr Dowling declined to comment on Mr Seaman’s resignation.

But he said: “I am looking forward to working with all council members in moving the town forward.

“We are starting to see the revitalisation of the town and we welcome the additional cruise ship calls in 2020.”

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Published Oct 21, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 21, 2019 at 10:48 am)

Second councillor quits in St George

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