Disfunction between District of North Saanich councillors and municipal staff has reached a level requiring mediation between the two parties.
Monday night, council voted to call in mediator Gordon Sloan to sit between the council and chief administrative officer Rob Buchan. It’s a role that would normally be undertaken by the mayor, but Alice Finall said she wants nothing to do with that job.
“It’s going to be difficult for one of us — me — to be the moderator,” Finall said in an interview, noting that the disfunction and animosity between councillors as well is pretty high.
Council also approved spending $5,000 on mediation.
Difficulties between council and the CAO was evident at Monday night’s meeting. Councillors voted to remove an item from the agenda that would have seen the CAO offer evidence contrary to comments made at an Oct. 1, 2012 public meeting by Coun. Dunstan Browne.
Buchan in his report stated this was an attempt to set the record straight on what information was communicated to Browne in regards to a Capital Regional District arbitration case with Central Saanich. The report provided a series of emails from staff to Browne. Buchan noted staff did communicate with the councillor all of the information Browne needed to fil his role as council’s alternate on the CRD board.
Browne and Coun. Ted Daly took exception to this report, with Daly stating it had been discussed in-camera and council had not voted to make it public. Buchan noted all of the privileged information was severed from his report.
“I never dreamed it would come here,” said Browne, “but it has. I would require an opportunity to respond. You always hear the other side.”
Coun. Elsie McMurphy said Browne’s initial comments on Oct. 1— that staff hadn’t provided him with enough information — were made in public forum.
“So, it does need to be dealt with, in public,” she said, as it has to do with public criticism of staff.
Coun. Celia Stock added council has been unprofessional at times in its dealings with staff. It’s something she said that needs to be rectified.
Browne said he had voted against bringing in a mediator in an earlier debate on the issue, but has changed his mind.
“We are working under very difficult conditions,” he said.
Daly said later that he’s expecting criticism from citizens on council’s decision to go to mediation. However he added he’s at the point where this step might be the only way to improve conditions at municipal hall — a tempest that has been boiling since council’s inaugural meeting.
“There doesn’t seem to be any change happening in North Saanich,” Daly said, describing a level of political rancour that has existed for years, even during his two terms as mayor.
“I’ve always prided myself on finding a middle ground, but it’s almost impossible to do that on North Saanich council.”
Daly said council’s inability to communicate well with staff will be part of the mediation and he said he hopes the majority block of councillors learn from the frustrations of the minority — and vice-versa.
“I’m hoping we can find some middle ground on the only issue in Niorth Saanich, and that’s housing.”
Coun. Conny McBride was the only one who voted against going to mediation, stating she didn’t feel it was appropriate to spend taxpayers’ money on someone hired to tell council to behave.
Finall said there’s a divergence of philosophy among councillors, but that alone isn’t the entire issue. She said the larger matter is in the way council does things and how they interact with their CAO.
“I hope mediation will improve civility at the council table, between council and staff,” she said. “There’s a certain lack of civility between councillors as well and this might help.”
Finall noted there have been reckless statements made by some councillors that have led to this stage of unrest.
“A mediator will glean information from each member and from there it will determine how he will approach the case,” continued the mayor. “I want this to achieve better public and private treatment of staff and our level of civility.”
All is not well among the council of the District of North Sannich. In an example of rampant disfunction at the table, it took nine minutes for councillors to decide to extend their Nov. 5 regular meeting past 11 p.m.
A series of three motions and amendments were debated, including extending the meeting only 10 minutes to hear Councillor Ted Daly’s CRD report.
Coun. Dunstan Browne at one point displayed frustration at the late hour and at Mayor Alice Finall’s call to “not see the clock” calling it “playing games”. He then threatened to walk out and take other councillors with him so there wouldn’t be a quorum. Coun. Elsie McMurphy chastised Browne for the threat.
In the end, council voted 4-3 to meet beyond 11 p.m.