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Kamloops councillors unite against mayor's perceived 'chaotic' and 'unpredictable' behaviour

Kamloops city council addresses media from city hall on March 17, 2023.  (Marcella Bernardo/CBC - image credit)
Kamloops city council addresses media from city hall on March 17, 2023. (Marcella Bernardo/CBC - image credit)

Kamloops city council gathered at city hall on Friday afternoon to deliver a joint statement condemning the mayor's actions in recent months.

"While we, all eight city councillors, would prefer to be performing the job that we've been elected to do by our citizens, we instead find ourselves again combating the chaotic and unpredictable behaviour of our mayor that leads to confusion and misinformation," Coun. Katie Neustaeter read from a collective statement.

This comes after the mayor shuffled committees on Thursday, removing councillors from their spots without consultation, council says.

"Counter to public comments made by Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson [Thursday], no councillor you see before you today has ever expressed a desire to be quote "relieved of our workload." No councillor has ever expressed that they were quote "kind of overwhelmed." No chair has shown any quote, "lack of commitment" or has any conflict," Neustaeter said.

"These are examples of blatant untruths."

Marcella Bernardo/CBC
Marcella Bernardo/CBC

Kamloops This Week, the local newspaper, reported that several councillors had been removed as chairs of committees and were replaced by members of the community.

The mayor has defended his actions and said he's been working on new committee placements for "quite a while."

"This was a positive thing," he told CBC. "If we can get more people involved in the city, you know, in our committees, why wouldn't we?"

He said the people he handpicked for committee roles have experience with the portfolios they were chosen to work on.

Hamer-Jackson added that he and council had until March 28 to make adjustments, and he was disappointed documents around the proposed new committee members were provided to media.

"Unfortunately, one of the recipients of my confidential e-mail chose to release the list of proposed committee appointees to the media within minutes of receiving it, without my knowledge or consent," wrote Hamer-Jackson in a Saturday statement.

"I would urge my fellow councillors to put their bruised egos aside long enough to consider the merits of the changes that I am proposing, and the value that the new committee appointees will bring to our city."

Jenifer Norwell/CBC
Jenifer Norwell/CBC

This isn't the first time the mayor has made an unusual move; in December, he recused himself from an entire council meeting (less than five seconds), claiming he was in conflict with two items on the meeting's agenda. Rather than returning after those items were handled, he disappeared.

And in November, just one month after he was elected, B.C. Housing shelter operators in the city requested he stop making unannounced visits, bringing in someone who needs a bed — even to places that don't operate drop-in shelters.

Council 'subjected to repeated disrespect'

In its statement, council says it is concerned the situation at city hall is impacting citizens.

"While we as councillors have been subjected to repeated disrespect, violations of personal and professional boundaries, belittling and constantly disruptive behaviour by the mayor, we've been willing to absorb the impact in service to our community and in an attempt to have city business compromised as little as possible," Neustaeter said.

"But we must draw a line when this erratic behaviour directly obstructs our ability, as your democratically elected representatives, to do our job."

Council will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, March 21, "to discuss a resolution" to the issues they've been facing.

It has not announced whether the meeting will be open or closed.

Hamer-Jackson said he wants to see an end to the "drama" at city hall.

"I'd say we gotta stop the drama, and let's get to work," he said. "Let's get the boots on the ground. And that's what I'm doing here. We're getting more people to help out. So why don't we just forget about the drama?"

Impact of such conflict can be 'significant': expert

Lawyer Reece Harding, who has practised municipal law for 31 years, said Kamloops city council is one of many local governments in B.C. that are struggling to get along.

He said when local governments don't get along, it trickles down to city staff and other entities in the municipal system.

"It affects the day-to-day running of local government, it affects individuals at a personal level. It affects morale," he said, adding it could eventually impact staff employment.

Harding was appointed ethics commissioner in Surrey in July 2020, where he advised council on the city's code of conduct and investigated complaints. His contract ended in 2022, but he's passionate about the need for more ethics commissioners in cities and towns across B.C.

"The beauty of for the benefit of an office like an ethics commissioner embedded within a municipality is that it gives the elected officials a neutral third party that they can go to to discuss these matters and hopefully amongst themselves resolve some of them," he said.

Right now, only Surrey and Vancouver have ethics commissioners.

Harding said the provincial government needs to offer more support to municipalities.

"Right now we have a bit of a void in our legislation," he said. "I think it's high time for the province to start stepping up and providing better guidance for elected officials under our statutory regime."