City of Kamloops sponsors bullying and harassment resolution for SILGA consideration

City wants to see safeguards

Kamloops city council wants to see the province adopt more effective measures to protect municipal staff, council and board members from mistreatment at the hands of local elected officials.

A Kamloops-sponsored resolution will be considered by municipal delegates at next week’s Southern Interior Local Government Association convention, recommending safeguards against bullying and harassment by local elected officials.

“There is currently no legislation in place that effectively safeguards local government staff or elected officials from bullying, harassment and other inappropriate treatment at the hands of other local elected official[s],” the resolution states.

The resolution suggests the Union of B.C. Municipalities ask the B.C. government to make changes to the Workers Compensation Act, including local elected officials in the act's definition of a worker.

That would mean existing WorkSafeBC policies and safeguards around bullying and harassment would be applicable to elected officials — which is not presently the case.

The resolution further recommends the B.C. government adopt provisions, including those resulting in “suspension or disqualification from participation in elected office,” in order to safeguard staff, council or board members from ethical misconduct of local elected officials.

The document says local government codes of conduct are ineffective against an elected official who opts to “blatantly ignore and disregard council or board resolutions,” including protective measures put in place to safeguard staff and others from the actions of that individual.

The resolution notes in “the absence of statutory or common law authority” to prevent an elected official from bullying or harassing others, the mental health and safety of staff or other elected officials is put at risk — and could result in significant legal exposure and increased legal costs.

'No teeth' in current laws

Coun. Bill Sarai, who is also SILGA’s second vice-president, said Kamloops council put the resolution forward for SILGA membership consideration, noting it’s no secret council members have been plagued by issues related to governance.

Sarai said Kamloops isn’t the only municipality that is having such difficulties, which is why council thought it best to to bring forward a motion.

“Our provincial government doesn't have any policies in place to assist municipalities, other than what you're seeing now — sending an advisor to give recommendations that really have no teeth to them. They're just recommendations,” Sarai said.

In the past several weeks, Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson suddenly decided to suspend the city’s acting CAO — a decision quickly reversed by the rest of council — and then released two confidential city documents to news reporters.

One of those documents was an investigative report from last year that concluded the mayor violated council’s code of conduct multiple times by disrespecting or demeaning three staff members. As a result, a communication restriction between the mayor and some staff members is in place.

The mayor’s power to suspend certain staff members has also been revoked.

City staff won’t confirm whether recent changes to council members’ key fob access at city hall were made due to these events, but elected officials are now not able to enter certain employee areas in order to ensure a safe work environment for staff.

SILGA’s recommendation is to endorse the Kamloops-sponsored resolution, noting elected officials, as well as staff, should be protected by law.

Sarai said SILGA resolutions carry weight, and even if they aren’t adopted, provincial ministers and the premier are taking notice of the topics up for discussion.

The resolution will be up for debate next week when the SILGA convention gets underway in Kamloops.

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