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Councillor’s participation may face court challenge, mayor says

Mayor Walter Jakeway served noticed at Tuesday’s council meeting that a group of citizens may legally challenge Coun. Ryan Mennie finishing out his council term from Alberta.

Jakeway said a group of concerned residents may be advancing the challenge.

“There may be a legal challenge for the whole arrangement of the remote situation that we have tonight as we’re heading into the future,” Jakeway said. “Everybody should be on notice we may have a legal challenge in the future.”

Mennie participated in Tuesday’s council meeting via Skype. Mennie said he Skyped with his iPad and followed along with the live broadcast of the meeting on the city’s website using his laptop.

“The Skype session worked very well for me,” Mennie said. “Other than my larger than life presence on the screen, it was like I was in the room and had no problem hearing or participating in the discussion.”

He said that following the regular council meeting, he also participated in the in-camera session of the meeting by phone in the committee room.

During the council meeting, Mennie’s image was projected on council’s overhead screen. During presentations from the public, Mennie’s profile was shrunken to a small square at the bottom right corner of the screen. Realizing it may be distracting, Mennie said he shut off his iPad during the presentations, which resulted in people in council chambers seeing a black screen. Despite the black out, Mennie said he was still listening to the live streaming.

But not everyone agrees with what Mennie is doing.

Several residents have signed a petition in protest.

The petition states that the residents believe “Councillor Mennie is abusing a provision in a city bylaw, to remain as a paid member of the Campbell River city council and represent the desire of these same citizens (and) to have Councillor Ryan Mennie resign his seat as a member of council, in the best interest of Campbell River taxpayers.”

The Community Charter states that “a member of council or a council committee who is unable to attend a council meeting or a council committee meeting, as applicable, may participate in the meeting by means of electronic or other communication facilities.”

But the residents who have signed the petition say they believe that section is set aside for council members who still reside in the community but are unable to attend meetings due to illness, work or other circumstances beyond their control.

Resident Darlyne Shane is concerned Mennie is violating another section of the Community Charter as well. One that states, “a person elected or appointed to office on a council is disqualified from holding that office if any of the following applies: b) the person is absent from council meetings for a period of 60 consecutive days or 4 consecutive regularly scheduled council meetings, whichever is the longer time period, unless the absence is because of illness or injury or is with the leave of council.”

City Clerk Peter Wipper, in an e-mailed response to Shane, said that while it is true councillors can be disqualified for missing four consecutive meetings, a section of the Community Charter clarifies that members are deemed to be present if they are participating electronically.

While Mennie has vowed to attend the remaining council meetings between now and November’s municipal election, he has stepped down from the Strathcona Regional District board and the city’s Advisory Planning and Environment Commission.

Mennie said he will be back in Campbell River this weekend to cut the ribbon for the grand opening of Centennial Park’s new natural playscape on Saturday and will be speaking as acting mayor.

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