Area D Director Brenda Leigh being sworn in at a meeting in November 2018. Photo by Mike Chouinard/Campbell River Mirror

Strathcona Regional District asks for options around censuring members

Area D Director Leigh questions whether regional district has legal authority

Censure is not something that pops up often at local government meetings.

It is not unheard of, however, and last fall the Strathcona Regional District board chose to censure one member due to alleged comments she made a meeting.

In the aftermath, the board wanted to get more information around the practice of censure and how the SRD should handle a situation should the need ever arise again.

At a meeting in April, the regional district’s chief administrative officer David Leitch presented a report to the board to clarify how to define censure, and answer questions such as when issues should be moved to in camera meetings, timelines, procedural fairness and proscribed procedures. The board is expected to be tackling this again at a meeting in the near future.

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Area D Director Brenda Leigh, the member in question at the meeting last fall, said at the meeting in April that she understood the need for a fair procedure but added the practice was not authorized by bylaw or statute.

“I would like our lawyers to review whatever we’re planning to do,” she said, adding she wanted to make sure the SRD would not violate anyone’s constitutional rights to be at the table to represent citizens.

“I find some of the suggestions for censure a little bit offensive,” she continued.

She cited examples of an elected official not being allowed to access staff to work on constituency issues or removing members from committees and commissions.

“You’re cutting them and their whole area off at the knees,” she said. “I don’t think that’s fair.”

Leigh also said she wanted to look at how the issue is handled in other parts of the province.

“It becomes such a disruptive element of local government for something that might not have been as serious as the consequences,” she said.

Board chair Michele Babchuk responded that staff presented them with the report the board requested, adding it had been through legal channels.

Area B Director Noba Anderson said she appreciated having some clarity around what is procedurally fair as a reference, though she did echoes Leigh’s concerns.

“I really wholeheartedly agree with everything Director Leigh said,” she said.

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In response to the issues, Leitch explained the board does have the legal authority to exercise censure, adding the SRD has gotten “plenty of” legal opinion. He said there is a host of things that can be considered censure, though only a limited number of cases that refer to it, as it is not often used.

As an example, Leitch said a situation in which an elected official harasses staff, the resulting action might be to not allow the member work with staff. He again referred to other potential penalties or actions such as removal from committees or having a member apologize, with the method dependent on the type of infraction.

“Censure is really about the process of discipline and fairness,” he said.

At the end of discussion, Area C Director Jim Abram made a subsequent motion for staff to bring forward notice of motion options in situations of censure for the May 8 meeting. The motion passed with Leigh and Charlie Cornfield, one of the Campbell River directors, opposing. Prior to the vote, Cornfield suggested this matter should instead be embedded into the SRD’s procedural bylaw, with options identified ahead of time.