The latest Harrison Hot Springs council meeting ground to a halt for several minutes when Mayor Ed Wood thoroughly criticized recent exchanges between he and council.
During the mayor’s report on Monday (April 3), Wood again called on councillors to discuss the reasons behind the recent non-confidence vote against him in an open, public meeting. He read an excerpt from the notification letter he received alerting him to the council’s disapproval.
“This letter is an expression of our vote of non-confidence in your ability to provide good governance to the village of Harrison Hot Springs,” Wood read. “We understand the severity of this letter and have not arrived at it lightly or in haste.”
According to Wood, the councillors criticized him for inconsistent application of council procedures, disregard for legal opinions and a lack of respect for the knowledge and expertise of his fellow members of council.
“Your continued lack of willingness to listen to staff or councillors has created an environment of toxicity where there is no cooperation, creating dysfunction and hindering the ability to provide good governance to the Village of Harrison Hot Springs,” Wood read. “ We are continuously losing ground with the inability to effectively managing the ongoing affairs of the village.”
All four councillors signed the letter of non-confidence.
The non-confidence vote followed months of mayor-council conflict and controversy, including the departure of three major village managers and multiple allegations of “illegal” council meetings. In the weeks following the vote, the village enlisted legal help to write a cease-and-desist letter to a resident for posting ““posting derogatory comments against council and staff” on social media.
Wood spent several uninterrupted minutes calling out the council on what he deemed “absolutely disrespectful” behaviour. He slammed council for the use of Vancouver-based local government law firm Lidstone and Company for the cease and desist letter and for asking the B.C. Privacy Inspector to investigate an unnamed Facebook page for slanderous and defamatory posts against council members and staff.
Coun. Michie Vidal said the comment that sparked the cease and desist action was “extremely disturbing,” and included sexual connotations involving members of council.
“I would certainly suggest if Council doesn’t like something that’s on Facebook, they don’t look at it,” Wood replied. “If Council wishes, Council can retain their own legal (counsel) and can actually do what they feel that they need to do.”
Wood has consistently refused to attend an in-camera or closed meeting on issues between he and council, despite multiple requests. He claimed there are no elements concerning the council’s disapproval of his performance that cannot be discussed in an open meeting rather than in-camera.
Closed or in-camera meetings are typically held to discuss land, legal or staffing matters. While it’s standard protocol that these meetings are closed to the public, some items discussed during in-camera meetings could be released at the discretion of council.
During an in-camera, March 6 meeting, council resolved to hire an independent facilitator to “assist in improving Council relations to support them working together efficiently for better governance of the village.”
“You can’t expect me to start going to these facilitator meetings,” Wood said in response. “I have just read out what (council’s) thoughts are. I can’t imagine anybody here that would want to sit in a workshop with four people that have got that on their mind.”
Coun. John Buckley said there were items to be discussed that he could not speak about for various reasons.
“We are not going into these workshops with a closed mind,” Buckley said. “We are here for good governance of this village and I hope you can believe that. I’m sure we can work out our differences.”
Rather than continuing on the current trajectory, Coun. Allan Jackson said he wanted to get back to the work he was elected to do.
“We were put in a position to have to deal with items that we didn’t want to have to do,” Jackson said. “You made your choice not to attend, which is your right to do so. And you can continue to do that. I just want for this to move forward. It’s really up to you, Mr. Mayor.”
Vidal stressed that the vote of no confidence was meant to be a catalyst to bring mayor and council to common ground. A vote of no confidence does not hold weight in the municipal arena, and according to Vidal, it was never meant to be punitive.
Wood asked multiple times for an apology from council. The councillors did not reply in any way to Wood’s requests during the council meeting.
“This council is not prepared to say ‘I’m sorry,’ and want to continue and talk in a closed-door setting,” Wood said. “I’m very, very disappointed. This is a very big tipping point for this mayor and council and it’s very, very sad to see that council here. They can’t even say the words ‘we’re wrong, we’re sorry.’”
Approximately 30 minutes of Monday’s three-hour meeting were spent discussing this topic and no action was taken.