The Strathcona Regional District (SRD) board took the step of censuring Area D Director Brenda Leigh at the board meeting Wednesday afternoon.
The issue seems to surround her behaviour at a recent in-camera meeting concerning words she used regarding a member of the board, seemingly chair Michele Babchuk.
At the regular board meeting on Wednesday, Babchuk said she had not been at the meeting in question but heard about what Leigh allegedly said from others on the board.
The move to censure was prompted, according to John McDonald, Sayward’s mayor and director with the SRD, by Leigh’s decision not to write a letter of apology rather than by the alleged choice of words.
“She was asked to reply by the fourth of October, and there was no reply,” he said.
For her part, Leigh says she did nothing wrong and denies saying anything objectionable. A couple of fellow board members did vote to not bring the item forward to the public meeting on Wednesday. As well, Area A Director Gerald Whalley said he did not hear anything at the meeting in question.
“The vast majority of the directors sitting at the board heard nothing…There’s no solid evidence of this whatsoever,” he said.
On Wednesday though, most directors wanted to clear the air, but Leigh was firm on the matter.
“I didn’t say the vile things I‘m accused of saying,” she said. “I’ve served 25 years on this board with absolutely no problems whatsoever. All of a sudden, after I’ve taken some action on the water defence fund, I’m getting this kind of bullying and harassment…I think it’ll backlash on the people perpetrating it, and I hope it does.”
Leigh said the move was prompted by politics rather than any interest over conduct, as she questioned the timing just over a week before an election.
“I can’t apologize for something I didn’t do,” she added. “I don’t think it’s fair what you’re doing to me after 25 years.”
Leigh has been involved in a dispute with some residents of Area D who have taken the City of Campbell River and the SRD to B.C. Supreme Court over bylaws that brought in massive water rate increases this year.
Andy Adams, Campbell River’s mayor and one of its directors on the SRD board, dismissed the notion the censure motion had anything to do with the pending election.
“This is not an election issue. This is a respectful workplace issue, this is a code of conduct issue,” he said. “The board did do its due diligence.”
Adams also said multiple sources have provided corroboration of what Leigh allegedly said.
“Had it been a one-off, I probably wouldn’t be in support of this,” he said, adding, “To make any insinuation that this has ulterior motives or has been orchestrated is just another shameful statement.”
Charlie Cornfield, another of the City of Campbell River representatives, said the items being brought forward required that they take action over the issue of censuring Leigh. He said he made it a point of pride to stay out of electoral area issues, but he reiterated the need for Leigh to respond to the concerns.
“It never hurts to apologize,” he said. “It always makes you look bigger.”
When Area B Director Noba Anderson asked for clarification on censure and what form it would take, the board decided simply to leave it as bringing the situation to light at a public meeting rather than taking any further punitive actions.
Prior to the end of the discussion, Babchuk said, “Although inappropriate comments were directed at me, I will say I did not hear them, but I was approached very, very quickly by several directors at this table. The timing, I agree, is absolutely terrible…I think we just move forward now.”