Some citizens who were asked by embattled Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson to sit on standing committees say they hope to see communications improve among council members.
Hamer-Jackson’s unilateral changes saw him remove three councillors as chairs — including those with whom he has had disagreements with in the past — and appoint nine members of the public, including some who were involved with or financially supported his election campaign.
In response, council voted to suspend the standing committees pending a review of the terms of reference.
On Saturday, Hamer-Jackson confirmed he had withdrawn the names of the nine citizens he appointed to the committees. Castanet Kamloops obtained a copy of an email sent by Hamer-Jackson to council, in which the mayor thanked the nine people and said he doesn't want them "feeling like they did something wrong by volunteering to serve the city."
Randy Sunderman, who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat last fall, had been selected by Hamer-Jackson to replace Coun. Mike O’Reilly as chair for the development and sustainability committee.
Sunderman said he believes Hamer-Jackson selected appointees for their qualifications, not for any malicious reasons.
He noted his own background, which includes degrees in economics and biology, 35 years of experience as a consultant working on land planning and economic development, undergoing work for 80 municipalities across Canada and experience on several boards.
“I think he selected based on their qualifications, and that's why I told you mine,” Sunderman said.
“It wasn't as random or as malicious as people may be thinking. I think it was something more thought out on his end.”
Sunderman said he first got to know Hamer-Jackson before the election, joining him for a 4 a.m. walk on the streets of Kamloops and a tour of VisionQuest, a recovery centre near Logan Lake.
After the election, the mayor issued a public invitation for past candidates to weigh in on council’s strategic planning. Sunderman said the mayor reached out to see if he was interested in doing work on a board or committee.
He said he spoke with Hamer-Jackson hours before the mayor sent out the document announcing the changes. Shortly thereafter, Sunderman was getting calls from reporters about his appointment.
He said he doesn’t think the document should have been shared with the media and said councillors, the mayor and the CAO “need to be communicating on a very different level than what’s happening right now.”
Hamer-Jackson has said he didn’t run his selections by councillors because they have been critical of past motions he’s brought forward in council meetings.
In a statement responding to the mayor’s committee changes, councillors said they heard the mayor was thinking about adding citizens to committees, and “repeatedly requested input about process or at least on overview if this was to happen,” but they weren’t consulted.
“No member of this council has been invited by the mayor to participate in any meaningful consultative team building or respectful conversation in many months,” the statement said.
Sunderman said he thinks councillors, the CAO and the mayor need to improve communication.
“I think there's an onus on all parties to try and pull up their socks here and make an effort to have those one-on-one conversations,” he said.
Sonny Leonard, former Tk’emlups te Secwepemc band councillor, had been chosen by Hamer-Jackson to sit on the community relations and reconciliation committee.
Leonard said he’s known Hamer-Jackson for a long time. He said the mayor approached him a couple months ago asking if he would participate.
Leonard's father and grandparents attended Kamloops Indian Residential School — a fact Hamer-Jackson knows.
“I’ve been on council and 14 years of administration with the band. I have a very large network, Leonard said.
"I have a gift of putting the right people [together] to meet the right people.”
When asked to respond to concerns around how the committee appointments were made, Leonard said he believes Hamer-Jackson was trying to make things better.
“He's got a big heart, wears it on his sleeves, and he has full intentions of helping and it’s just going to take a team to get on the same page and see if they can work together on building a community,” Leonard said.
Leonard said he felt it would be good to have a Tk'emlups member represented on a city committee — even if it isn't necessarily himself.
“Even if I'm not there, I would be available at a moment's notice to sit in as a request,” he said.
“I just think it’s a healthy thing that needs to move forward.”
Deb Newby, who helped Hamer-Jackson with his election campaign, said she had been approached by Hamer-Jackson to be chair of the community relations and reconciliation committee.
Newby said she has decades of experience in provincial government working as a senior manager and senior project manager.
“When he provided me with the opportunity, I just thought it was a fantastic opportunity to use some of my own experience to be able to pull people together,” Newby said.
Councillors, including Stephen Karpuk and Katie Neustaeter, have expressed concern with the lack of an equitable application process for choosing committee appointments.
The mayor has defended his choices, pointed to his appointees’ qualifications and his authority under the Community Charter to choose members of standing committees.
It is yet to be seen how council will decide to move forward with standing committees. A select committee, made up of three councillors, will review the terms of reference and bring back recommendations to council.
In the meantime, the city's engagement groups will continue to meet. On Tuesday, councillors said they were prepared to sit in additional committee of the whole meetings to ensure city business will continue.