Column: Municipal politics a dangerous business in BC
EDITORS NOTE: The opinions expressed in this guest column do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Grumpy Taxpayer$ and are presented for discussion purposes only.
By Dermod Travis, Executive Director of Integrity BC (July 2015)
If the screams for help are any indication, it would seem a few town councils aren’t settling in so well following last November’s elections.
A couple of common themes: old-fashioned collegiality and the life expectancy of what might be the most risky job in civic life.
Since the last tally, a few more towns have said “au revoir” to their chief administrative officer, including the Regional District of Central Kootenay, Fraser Lake, Kitimat and Sicamous.
Lillooet terminated one CAO in September 2013, hired a new one three months later who quit last month. Penticton’s CAO quit in January; an interim CAO was appointed in February and quit in June.
There’s also a bit of a musical-chairs quality with the CAO file.
Mission said goodbye to its CAO in February who then emerged as a financial consultant to Lillooet (which desperately needed one) and Kitimat said goodbye this month to its CAO, who is moving on to take up the position in Mission.
Sadly, the civic mayhem isn’t limited to staffing. It has cross-contaminated a few council chambers, sometimes making the Hatfield and McCoy feud seem like an episode of The Brady Bunch.
Consider these headlines: Bitterness lingers as Lantzville’s council implodes; Tensions flare in Pouce Coupe council dispute; White Rock councillor censured over online “defamation”; Volunteer firefighters in Chase, B.C., being bullied by mayor.
And that’s just in the past 90 days.
In Grand Forks — as if the city didn’t have enough problems after firing their CAO last December, paying him $200,000 in severance and rehiring him two months later — council has circled the wagons with guns squarely aimed inward.
They have picked a fight among themselves by serving papers on one councillor to have her disqualified over an alleged conflict of interest.
The city claims councillor Julia Butler was in a conflict over a vote on the city’s water-meter work program while owning a seasonal gardening business. Butler is fighting the move.
And in a remarkable display of civic pride, Grand Forks’s mayor Frank Konrad ended a recent CBC interview with: “Would you really think this is a great community to live in with what is going on with city government?”
Further north, in Pouce Coupe, they have already had one byelection since last November’s elections and — as the Alaska Highway News has pointed out — tensions are flaring.
Rumours are rife in the village that efforts are afoot to bully one councillor off council. The bad blood has entangled the mayor, a Facebook page, a citizens’ watchdog group and the RCMP.
Note to Grand Forks and Pouce Coupe: Councils aren’t tree forts where you get to vote to keep the girls out.
In Lantzville, four of seven councillors just cut to the chase and quit, as did two senior staff members.
Next door in Nanaimo, council is bringing new meaning to damn the torpedoes when it comes to debating the future of Colliery Dam Park.
According to the Nanaimo Daily News, “passions seethed” at a council meeting this month. One resident stormed out of the meeting yelling: “He’s the mayor, not the king.”
In Lillooet, residents woke up in April to learn that the district had spent $204,817 in legal and auditing costs in about 15 months, a little shy of $90 for every resident of the community. It includes $30,437 in legal fees so that a former CAO could sue a handful of residents for defamation.
This month, residents got to wake up to the news that the consultant the district hired to review its finances doesn’t “have confidence in the numbers used as the basis for the district’s 2015 budget.”
Warm fuzzy feelings all round, no doubt, but not much of a surprise for a town that has had three mayors and is now looking for its third CAO since 2012.
It’s time for someone in Community Minister Coralee Oakes’s office to answer the phone before things go really south.
Otherwise, former Alberta municipal affairs minister Doug Griffiths — who has written a book entitled 13 Ways to kill Your Community — will have a few more chapters to add in the next edition.
Formed in 2011, Victoria-based Integrity BC is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to help restore a bond built on trust and confidence between citizens and their elected officials. It has revealed White House salaries dwarfed by BC city managers, exposed junkets charged to the taxpayer’s tab, helped protect British Columbians from election gag laws, launched the ‘Take back BC’ campaign, and uncovered prohibited political donations.