RE-ELECTED councillor of the Belfield division, Levan Ainsworth Freeman, will be named the new Mayor of Port Maria when councillors of the St Mary Parish Council are sworn in later today.
Freeman, 56, who is serving his third term as councillor of the Belfield division in South East St Mary, is being endorsed by seven other People's National Party councillors as chairman of the parish council.
Freeman's deputy will be decided by the eight councillors of the parish council before the noon swearing in ceremony. The Jamaica Observer understands that returning councillor of the Highgate division in Central St Mary, Paul Anthony Fyffe, will likely be named deputy mayor.
A businessman and farmer, Freeman scored a decisive victory over the JLP's Norman Gordon to consolidate his hold on a traditionally strong PNP division. He polled 1,472 votes to Gordon's 647, to win by the comfortable majority of 825 in a voter turnout of 44.3 per cent. He worked as a member of former MP for Central St Mary, Horace Clarke's political machinery for several years until he won his first parish council election in 2003 and followed that with another victory in 2007.
The PNP won eight of the 13 parish council divisions on Monday, following two successive defeats to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in previous local government elections.
The party won the divisions of Annotto Bay, Highgate, Belfield, Islington, Port Maria, Retreat, Boscobel and Oracabessa, while the JLP retained the divisions of Richmond, Castleton, Carron Hall, Gayle and Hampstead.
Interestingly, Freeman's elevation to the mayoral chair will mean that two councillors from divisions pronounced Belfield (both spelt differently) will serve as mayor. Manchester's Brenda Ramsay will be returned as mayor of Mandeville after she was re-elected as councillor for her Bellefield division in Central Manchester.
A senior PNP official said yesterday that all successful St Mary councillors were to expected to meet with the parish's members of last Wednesday night to ratify recommendations made already regarding the leadership of the parish council.
Senior Member of Parliament (Central St Mary) and Minister Without Portfolio in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr Morais Guy, who attended The Belfield All Age School and St Mary High School at the same time as Freeman, was due to chair the meeting at which newly-elected MPs, Jolyan Silvera (St Mary West) and Dr Winston Green (St Mary South East) were also expected to attend.
"I'm really to take on the challenge; I have the experience and the capability to deal with whatever may come my way," Freeman told the Observer yesterday, although he was quick to point out that he had not yet been selected for the post.
"We will meet as a caucus this evening (yesterday) to discuss that," Freeman added. He said that his colleague councilors have enough confidence in his ability to lead the council and that he would not be surprised if elected as mayor of Port Maria and chairman of the St Mary Parish Council.
A senior member of the PNP's national executive said that the party was confident that Freeman would do a good job as mayor. "He is one of the longest serving councillors in the parish and has the experience, but that is not all, as he has shown that he has the competence to make things happen in a positive way. He is a likeable man and above all, he is fair and well respected," said the official who asked not to be named because the decision had not been made public.
Freeman, meanwhile, said there were a number of issues which would require his immediate attention once he takes control of the council, but emphasised that rebuilding the public's confidence in the council would be critical.
"It is important that we build back the people's confidence in the council because there have been instances of alleged corruption and the arrogance of some of [our] colleagues; we will have to work to make the council more people friendly," Freeman said.
He said priority attention would also be given to the council's current financial status and said an audit would have to be undertaken to examine the council's current financial standing and how to proceed forward financially.
He said he would also be working to build stronger partnerships with a number of private and public entities including the Parish Development Committee, Community Development Committee and the Local Board of Health.
He said that other issues, including the deplorable condition of the parochial road network across the parish as well as lack of potable water for residents would also get priority attention, pointing out that efficiency and equity would play an important part in the council.
"I'm a community person and that's why I continue to win, because I work for the community and the people and that will never change, I will continue to work for my people," he emphasised.
He said, too, that his administration would work tirelessly for the benefit of the St Mary residents and that programmmes initiated under the previous administration and which have not been completed would be continued.
St Mary is regarded by economic analysts as one of the poorest in Jamaica. Its run-down road network has discouraged farming which was once a mainstay of the parish's economy.
Water too, remains one of the more serious challenges that the parish faces, as although it records the second highest amount of rainfall islandwide, hundreds of its citizens still do not have piped water, and many of those who do, get it on an irregular basis. Old, malfunctioning equipment at National Water Commission stations have been blamed for the water distribution problem within the parish.