Kamloops city council votes to reinstate acting CAO after he was suspended by mayor

Council undoes suspension

UPDATE: 7:27 p.m.

Kamloops city council has voted in favour of reinstating acting CAO Byron McCorkell, effective immediately.

Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson made a surprise decision to suspend McCorkell on Tuesday, citing a need for change.

In response, city councillors called a special closed meeting to address the mayor's decision, stating their confidence in the city's top employee.

In a news release issued Thursday evening, the City of Kamloops said the resolution to reinstate McCorkell was approved 8-0. Hamer-Jackson did not take part in the special council meeting.

UPDATE: 3:58 p.m.

Coun. Mike O’Reilly, this month’s deputy mayor, took the chair’s seat Thursday as Kamloops city council entered into a closed meeting following Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson’s surprise decision to suspend the city's highest-ranking official.

Hamer-Jackson suspended acting CAO Byron McCorkell on Tuesday, prompting Thursday's special closed meeting.

After council approved the agenda at about 3 p.m., O’Reilly emphasized he was the one who had called the meeting, noting his request had been seconded by Coun. Dale Bass.

“I would just like to address and state unequivocally that acting CAO McCorkell did not call or request this meeting, no staff is able to do this,” O’Reilly said.

Hamer-Jackson put forward a number of claims when speaking with news reporters Wednesday about his unilateral decision, including a claim that McCorkell wanted the special meeting to be held.

“We have asked this meeting be held today,” O’Reilly said, adding the meeting is being held in accordance with the Community Charter.

A statement issued Wednesday said council chose the earliest meeting date that could be arranged in light of requirements and timelines under the law. The statement expressed council's "utmost confidence" in McCorkell.

Seven councillors were in attendance, including O’Reilly, Bass, Coun. Nancy Bepple, Coun. Bill Sarai, Coun. Katie Neustaeter, Coun. Margot Middleton, and Coun. Stephen Karpuk.

Coun. Kelly Hall didn't appear to be present in person at the meeting.

Hamer-Jackson was not in attendance. He previously told Castanet he has a trip booked for the Easter long weekend.

Jen Fretz, civic operations director — who has taken over as interim acting CAO since Byron McCorkell was suspended — was also present, along with the city’s corporate officer and a couple of other staff.

O’Reilly thanked councillors and staff for attending ahead of the long weekend.

"A lot of people have made changes to their plans, which is greatly appreciated both on a colleague level and a city staffing level, but we did find that this is a very important matter that needs to be dealt with,” he said.

“While an option was potentially put out for next Monday, that’s also a statutory holiday. … We did not think that it was fiscally responsible to have staff come in on holiday time to deal with the matters at hand.”

Council unanimously voted in favour of proceeding into a closed meeting.

Outside city hall, a lone protester could be seen holding a sign saying, “Mayor doing job, McCorkell not doing job.”

This story will be updated when more information becomes known.

ORIGINAL: 1:05 p.m.

Kamloops city councillors will take part in a special meeting Thursday following Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson’s unilateral move to suspend acting CAO Byron McCorkell, with councillors and staff calling on the mayor to attend so he can “articulate his alleged grounds for suspension.”

According to an agenda posted on the City of Kamloops website, the closed meeting will take place immediately following a brief open meeting, scheduled to get underway at 3 p.m. in council chambers.

Hamer-Jackson said he won't be attending the special meeting due to previous plans to travel to Las Vegas with his family.

In a news release issued Thursday morning, City of Kamloops council and staff noted the special council meeting was called by Coun. Mike O’Reilly, this month’s deputy mayor, as well as Coun. Dale Bass, per the guidelines laid out in the Community Charter.

“Staff and council recognize that the meeting is scheduled prior to a long weekend and many people have travel or personal plans for the holiday, however the mayor is strongly encouraged to attend this special meeting and articulate his alleged grounds for suspension,” the statement said.

The statement said the mayor acted unilaterally, and without prior consultation with the rest of council when he decided to summarily suspend McCorkell.

“Having failed to articulate any cause or justification other than a personal preference to move in a different direction, it is in the best interests of the corporation to address this matter immediately," the statement said.

Council expected to undo suspension

Council is expected to reinstate McCorkell, issuing a statement Wednesday saying councillors have full confidence in the deputy CAO and don't support the mayor’s unilateral, sudden decision to suspend him.

Byron McCorkell has worked for the city for more than 25 years, and was officially named deputy CAO in the fall.

He stepped in to lead the city in early March after CAO David Trawin went away on personal leave.

As per the community charter, while the mayor has authority to suspend a municipal officer or employee, the decision must be raised with council at its next meeting — and council as a whole ultimately has the final say.

Mayor points to street issues

Hamer-Jackson told Castanet Kamloops he was working on a report outlining his reasons for the suspension for council’s next regular meeting on April 9.

He said he chose to suspend deputy CAO Byron McCorkell — less than a month after he took on the top job — because he wasn’t seeing change, pointing to various street issues in Kamloops.

The mayor also pointed to an incident which happened earlier this month in which he forwarded a compromising photo to the local chamber of commerce while preparing to give a presentation for a dinner event. The city stepped in, and pulled Hamer-Jackson’s slideshow.

In Thursday’s statement, city administration and council said allegations for the suspension are considered personnel-related, and as such, shouldn’t be shared publicly as per privacy legislation and provisions laid out in the Community Charter.

However, they said Hamer-Jackson should have been prepared with a report documenting his rationale in advance of issuing a suspension, and “should have it ready to present in today’s closed council meeting.”

It's been almost exactly a year since a special meeting was called by council to discuss another unilateral decision made by the mayor — the appointment of members of the public to council's committees, including people who worked on his election campaign.

Castanet Kamloops will have a reporter present for the open portion of Thursday's meeting. This story will be updated as more information is available.

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