Thu | Jun 4, 2020

Editorial | Schoolyard peeve in Falmouth

Published:Thursday | August 15, 2019 | 12:00 AM

There may be something more deeply personal or sociological, rather than mere policy differences, in the relationship between Colin Gager, the chairman of the Trelawny Municipal Corporation, and the parish’s custos, Paul Muschett, which manifests itself in public acts of churlishness on the part of the former.

But, whatever the root of the disagreement, it is important, for the good of their parish, and the example they set as leaders, that they find a way to coexist with decency and decorum. If they can’t themselves find that common ground, it might be useful for a neutral party to help them work through their problems. Perhaps Prime Minister Andrew Holness and the governor general, Sir Patrick Allen, might, between themselves, identify someone to help.

Mr Gager, who represents Trelawny’s Warsop division, is a member of Prime Minister Holness’ Jamaica Labour Party. As chairman of the municipal council, he is head of the parish government and mayor of the parish capital, Falmouth. It is a position that gives him significant authority.

Mr Muschett is the scion of an old landowning family who retains interest in agriculture and other forms of business. As the parish’s custos rotulorum, he is Sir Patrick’s representative in the parish, which means that he takes on many ceremonial functions that might have fallen to the governor general. But, unlike what Mr Gager suggests, the custos, by law, does have substantive roles.

He, for example, heads the committee that makes recommendations for the appointment of justices of the peace (JP) in the parish, as well as maintaining a roster for JPs to preside at petty session courts. He is also chairman of the Government’s committee to advise on local government reform in the parish, and critically, with the head of the municipal council, co-chair of the parish disaster preparedness committee.

Clearly, however, Messrs Gager and Muschett are not seeing eye to eye on several matters, especially on Mr Gager’s stewardship in preserving the heritage of Falmouth and its sizeable number of Georgian buildings, sections of which the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), in 1996, designated an historic district.

Treated like a minion

Mr Muschett, however, claims that Mr Gager and his council have given permits for new construction and renovations in Falmouth, unmindful of the town’s designation by the JNHT, and, he seems to suggest, the trust’s authority to determine what can be done to heritage sites and buildings. Mr Gager, on the other hand, not only dismisses those allegations, but suggests that Mr Muschett attempts to treat him like a minion. “He comes to my office to instruct me on how I should operate in my decision-making,” he complained.

Their grievance became a public spectacle in April, when, at a function involving young people, Mr Gager pointedly refused to shake Mr Muschett’s extended hand in greeting. “I don’t want to see you, (and) neither am I bowing to you,” Mr Gager said at the time. That, by Mr Muschett’s count, was the fourth time he was being snubbed at a public function by the mayor.

At Jamaica’s Independence celebration in the parish last week, Mr Gager arrived slightly late for a civic function and the custos proceeded with the inspection of a guard of hour in his absence. It was not clear whether Mr Gager’s lateness was deliberate, so that he wouldn’t have to appear with Mr Muschett.

Even if, as Mr Gager claims, Mr Muschett is guilty of overreach and is driven by motives other than what he declares to be the case, the matter can’t be resolved by such display of schoolyard peeve, when the interests of the people of Trelawny and, ultimately, Jamaica, are at stake. It is time they behave like adults. If required, they can ask us how.