BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large, Western Bureau email@example.com
MONTEGO BAY, St James — Former mayor of Montego Bay Cecil Donaldson says he is saddened by the poor quality of the present crop of political representatives who are now serving at the St James Parish Council.
" The council needs strong management," said the former mayor, as he called for a training programme for councillors and other parish council officials.
"You have a new set of councillors who don't know the by-laws; they don't know how to pass resolutions; they talk for a whole day and gets nothing done.........," he charged.
"You can't have a new set of councillors coming in and don't have training. That could not happen in my time," said Donaldson, who was mayor of Montego Bay and chairman of the St James Parish Council between 1966-69 and again from 1975-81. He was elected on the People's National Party's ticket.
The former mayor was speaking with the Observer West on Monday, as he reflected on the achievements made in St James since the country gained Independence from Britain in 1962, and the way forward for the further development of the parish.
He said Glendon Harris, who now chairs the council, must quickly embark on a raft of training programmes for the councillors in a bid to make them more knowledgeable and the local body more effective.
"I would like to see the mayor (Harris) in conjunction with the Ministry of Local Government and Keith Miller (a consultant) go to a hotel and have a training programme. And every three months at the council you invite resource personnel from the parish to come and talk to the councillors; people like the police; representatives of JTA (Jamaica Teachers' Association) and other public servants."
" .......Because you have a new set of councillors and God see and know they don't know where they are, even the mayor wants some training for he needs a lot of brushing up," bemoaned the former mayor.
But Harris told the Observer West that he has already recognised the need for training at the local authority, and is taking steps to have the matter addressed.
"Nothing beats training," he stressed. "I am aware that there is a great need for it at the council because some of the councillors don't even understand their roles as councillors; they don't know the operations of the council; the by-laws and what are the functions of certain departments there."
He added, however, that since the present crop of councillors were installed, two training sessions have been conducted for them.
Another, he said, is planned for later this year. That one, the mayor added, will be conducted by personnel form the Montego Bay Community College.
"At this session the councillors will be taught about etiquette; social graces, protocol, public speaking and so on," he told the Observer West.
The St James Parish Council is controlled by the Governing People's National Party (PNP), which won 13 of the 17 divisions up for grabs in the parish in Mach 2012 local government elections. The other four went to the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which last had control of the council from 2003 to March of this year.
The council under the leadership of Harris was severely criticised earlier this year for its handing of the swearing in ceremony for councillors, at which time the green was left out of the Jamaican flag.
The matter caused much embarrassment to the Government which launched and investigation into the much publicised matter and later sanctioned persons who were deemed responsible for the foul up.
Donaldson in the meantime contended on Monday that during his tenure, the council had a tight management system and fought many battles on the behalf of the people.
He said the unwillingness to be swayed from the course they felt was right, saw the council embroiled in many fights, some of which ended up before the courts.
One of the cases he recalled, led to a change in legislature that prevented local government from exerting any influence on the island's two major airports.
"Those days we were very vigilant about what took place in the development of the city. Those signs they put up for advertisement (billboards), there was a proliferation of these signs at the Sangster International Airport so we served notice to have the signs removed," he said.
After the notice expired, Donaldson personally led the charge in having the billboards removed from the airport premises. But the council was hauled before the courts for removing the signs.
"Well, we were taken to court and the Resident Magistrate awarded judgement against us, but we appealed it and we won," he said. "As a result of that, central government passed a law exempting Norman Manley and Sangster airports from falling under the ambit of the local authorities. So, because we exercised our right as a city those two areas were excluded."
Donaldson, whose son Noel Donaldson later became mayor of the resort city (2003-2007), entered the St James Parish Council as a councillor in 1956.
On Monday, he also urged the council to embark on a massive campaign to collect outstanding property taxes.
" The mayor and councillors must embark on an aggressive drive to collect land taxes. You can't have people in Westgate Hills, Ironshore and Coral Gardens with a compliance rate of 30 per cent. That is foolishness. They must go out there with security, serve notice on those who are not paying and prosecute them," he charged.
Earlier this year, Charles Sinclair Jnr, the then chairman of the St James Parish Council told a regular monthly siting of the local body that a number of communities, including the upscale Westgate Hills had a compliance rate of about 30 per cent.
Property taxes are used to provide services such as street lighting, garbage collection and a raft of community development projects.
"The present 30 per cent compliance rate in St James is a "a big joke," Donaldson said, adding that during his tenure most communities in the parish were more that 70 per cent compliant.
" That (property taxes) was what really help us to provide. It was used to run the fire brigade, run water and run public cleansing. It was much, much better than now; we were no no-nonsense when it comes to collection," he emphasised.
Meanwhile, Donaldson who served the council for 25 years said despite the many challenges and setbacks in St James over the last five decades, the parish has made significant progress.
" We have had our ups and downs but we have achieved a lot," said the former mayor.
He cited the creation of thousands of housing solutions and hotel rooms; the expansion of the Sangster International Airport; the establishment of several educational institutions; the creation of the Montego Bay Free Zone; the construction of several shopping centres and the Montego Bay Convention Centre; the construction of the Freeport Police Station and the upgrading of several road ways, as noteworthy achievements.
He added that there have also been tremendous improvements in the health care system.
He however, urged the young folk to grasp the opportunities that are being made available to them in the education system, as he decried the breakdown of the family structure.
" Over the next 10 years a concerted effort must be made by all concerned.... the church, the parents, civic bodies to try and build up the family structures once more. I would like to see the hoteliers, the service clubs go out there and talk to these young people and to see what are their needs and to see how best they can be helped," said Donaldson.