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FOULDS: On Kamloops council, it is the mayor versus everyone

Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson’s overhaul of the committee structure has angered councillors and laid bare the rift that exists at city hall
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On March 15, Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson, during his monthly appearance on the Kamloops Last Week webcast/podcast (which can be seen by clicking here), conceded he and the rest of council aren’t exactly getting along.

There has been sniping back and forth — particularly between Hamer-Jackson and councillors Dale Bass, Kelly Hall and Bill Sarai — since the mayor and the rest of council were elected on Oct. 15.

“Just watch Kelly Hall,” Hamer-Jackson said in response to questions about relationship problems on council. “He’s looking like Dale Bass, making all these faces. Too much drama.”

The mayor said there is “too much rhetoric” on council, said elected officials need to stop “pretending everything’s great” and said the city needs to get “boots on the ground” in dealing with social disorder on the street.

Some people (including yours truly) believed the group was fractured, but as a whole just needed time to mesh. After all, the council term is a long four years and we are only 10 per cent into the 48-month mandate.

Based on events this week, some people (including yours truly) may have been a tad too optimistic.

Despite many councillors’ attempts to downplay reports of a rift and try to put forward the message that the relationship with the mayor was not as dire as rumoured, the truth was evident to many.

The mayor’s decision this week to radically alter the structure of standing committees (first reported by KTW on March 16 after obtaining the new membership lists of the five standing committees) only confirms what many already knew — that the mayor and the rest of council are about as compatible as bleach and ammonia.

Hamer-Jackson cited many reasons for the wholesale changes — which included demoting some councillors from the positions as committee chairs and installing non-council members in their places — and suggested he was doing councillors a favour by lightening their workloads.

Rewind to the past few council meetings, watch again as a few councillors openly criticized the mayor, keep in mind that Hamer-Jackson possesses a boxer’s mentality and is loathe to back down from any slight, perceived or otherwise, and it is not difficult to see the committee shakeup as a means to punish those who do not toe the Hamer-Jackson line.

And the residents he appointed are largely Hamer-Jackson loyalists. They include 2022 civic election councillor candidate Darpan Sharma (who was vocally critical of the last council and who spent election night at Hamer-Jackson’s event at the Mount Paul Golf Course) and two friends of the mayor: Bailey’s Pub owner Brandon Coyle and former Tk’emlúps councillor Sonny Leonard.

Where does this leave councillors? Livid and fuming, we are told, with a significant statement expected on March 17.

While the mayor and council may be like Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner hanging from a giant chandelier, there is no reason to expect city business to come crashing down due to how council works.

Although the mayor alone can create standing committees and appoint its members, based on the provincial Community Charter, the mayor has virtually no more power than any councillor when it comes to making decisions. The mayor’s vote is one of nine on council and any decision made by a standing committee must be ratified by council. With council ratio now being eight against one, what are the chances councillors vote in favour of many recommendations brought forward from committees containing Hamer-Jackson’s resident appointees?

If, however, the eight councillors decide to break away and create their own select committees (as they are permitted to do under the Community Charter), they can meet to discuss issues and send recommendations to council, where they can implement those recommendations, with no need for the mayor’s support.

If this happens, the city business will continue, with council in two silos: the mayor versus the eight councillors, the latter of whom will be able to implement their agenda and the former being stymied, just as he has been thus far with his notices of motion on various issues.

There is another scenario that could upend the very existence of the committees and necessitate intervention from legal minds in Victoria. If councillors on the newly arranged standing committees decided to resign their positions in protest of the mayor’s moves, that would leave the committees with fewer than the required number of elected officials.

Under the Community Charter, the mayor can appoint non-council members to standing committees, as long as at least 50 per cent of each committee is composed of council members. For select committees, which are created by council, not solely the mayor, there needs to be at least one council member on the rosters.

It is not accurate to describe Kamloops council as being dysfunctional because it is functioning (and getting plenty of work done) in spite of the festering feud.

But the impasse between the mayor and council has branded Kamloops on social media and elsewhere as the Tumultuous Capital of Canada — and even Vince Ready would be hard-pressed to mediate this mess.

Twitter: @ChrisJFoulds