ELORA – In a series of bizarre events, two Centre Wellington councillors walked out of a council meeting on Monday after their peers broke with protocol in order to defeat an unorthodox motion that questioned the performance of the township’s CAO.
On Dec. 16 council chose to waive the usual period between the introduction and discussion of a notice of motion, in regards to a notice in that meeting’s agenda from councillor Stephen Kitras.
The motion directs the CAO “to provide unbiased, professional advice and information that is sufficient and complete to ensure that members of council shall make informed policy decisions.”
It also asks that CAO reports allow council members to make decisions that comply with the code of conduct.
Kitras also requested that each CAO report to council contain an appendix that shows all of the legislation, bylaws and policies applicable to the recommended decision.
“There is a growing frustration that I think the public and myself and other councillors have about not having complete information to make decisions and … basically only the CAO can guarantee all that,” Kitras said in a Dec. 17 phone interview.
“It’s so much work to … have to read it and then try to understand it and if it’s not complete then you just have to do so much work. I don’t have any resources for that.
“So I’ve found over time that I’m spending like lots and lots of time trying to figure out the whole picture … and then I have to ask so many questions.”
At the outset of the discussion about the notice of motion on Dec. 16, Mayor Kelly Linton stated there is typically a 30-day period between the introduction and discussion of a notice of motion.
However, councillor Stephen VanLeeuwen asked if council could deal with the motion on Dec. 16.
“I don’t know why we’d drag this one along,” he said.
Council first received the notice of motion on Nov. 13, when it was sent to council as well as select members of the community.
The notice was not discussed in November because clerk Kerri O’Kane sought advice from the integrity commissioner as to whether or not the motion was “appropriate.”
“He told Kerri that … I could rule it out of order if I thought it was,” Linton said after the meeting. “Or I could bring it up and go through the process and so … I decided ‘let’s just go through the process.’”
At the meeting O’Kane said council could pass a resolution to waive the notice provisions under Section 19 of the procedural bylaw – so VanLeeuwen introduced a motion to that effect.
Kitras, along with councillors Kirk McElwain and Bob Foster, thought it was inappropriate to discuss the motion immediately.
“Steve brought this motion forward and he was under the impression that it wouldn’t be discussed until next month, based upon the notice of motion process,” McElwain said.
“To change that ruling when he’s not prepared to have that discussion this evening seems inappropriate.”
Kitras said he was prepared to discuss the motion in January, as the clerk had indicated in an email.
“I did explain to councillor Kitras the normal procedures for notice of motions (is) that … notice is given on one agenda and the matter is then considered at a subsequent meeting,” O’Kane said. “That is the normal protocol.
“However I serve at the pleasure of council, so with a resolution on the table that perhaps contradicts that, if that is the wish of council that is what staff will adhere to.”
Kitras also said community members would like to appear as delegations to discuss his motion.
“There’s no delegations allowed on notices of motion,” Linton said.
Kitras then said he had an inquiry filed with the integrity officer about the notice of motion and he would like the results before discussing the motion.
Councillor Neil Dunsmore supported an immediate discussion.
“It was sent to members of the public and that’s what caused me concern,” he said. “This is out there in the public sphere, in emails to members of the public and they’re debating this, yet we as a council haven’t had the opportunity to debate it.”
Dunsmore added, “So I’d like to talk about it and hear what your side of it is and understand where you’re coming from.
“I don’t think we should leave this out there in the public domain over the Christmas holidays, in particular (with) the way it’s written.”
Linton, VanLeeuwen, Dunsmore and councillor Ian MacRae voted to go ahead with discussing the motion on Dec. 16. Kitras, Foster and McElwain were opposed.
Just as Foster asked for a recorded vote, Kitras and McElwain got up and walked out of the council chambers.
“Sorry, this has gotten to be a circus,” McElwain said as he walked out.
The next day Kitras said, “It’s also a little bit disconcerting that they wanted to get rid of the notice of motion so quickly when … it’s for the public to actually know what we’re trying to do for their benefit – what I was trying to do.”
Explaining his decision to leave the meeting, Kitras said, “I just sort of thought [the decision] was going to be … predetermined … and I didn’t need to be there to be lectured about stuff.”
Because Kitras and McElwain left the meeting, no vote was recorded.
VanLeeuwen, Dunsmore and MacRae were opposed to the motion, but expressed disappointment they couldn’t hear from Kitras about his motivation for the motion.
“It seems to have a lot of legal forefront aspect, but it says so much on the bottom and it seems to speak ill of the staff and how … there is … a bias in information,” VanLeeuwen said.
Dunsmore said he expects staff to bring reports forward using their professional knowledge.
“I’m not here to second guess that information,” he said. “If I choose to ignore that information that’s my right. But I want to hear it and this makes it sound like they’re somehow deliberately misguiding us and that is not the case.”
MacRae said no evidence has been presented to prove there is a problem.
“What I interpret from this motion is that it is an attempt to avoid responsibility for making a bad or unpopular decision by blaming it on the CAO,” he said.
MacRae went on to state the CAO, staff and council has received emails over the last few months that “are threatening, intimidating and clearly designed to harass. It is apparent that this motion and email are part of a concerted bullying and harassment campaign against the CAO, staff and others. I’ve witnessed the negative impact of these emails on the recipients and I too have suffered from the abuse from the emails’ authors.”
MacRae said he also received emails trying to coerce him to support Kitras’ motion.
“I do not appreciate residents’ efforts to unduly influence a municipal official,” MacRae said. “It is okay to share your opinion, but not okay when it includes threatening consequences for non-compliance.”
Linton said the motion is inappropriate.
“Even if I ignore that we received it at the same time as hand-picked members of the public, the content is 100 per cent inappropriate and demonstrates a completely unwarranted lack of trust in our CAO,” Linton said.
“We have already had a council-approved annual performance evaluation of our CAO that includes input from councillors. That is the right place to address CAO performance issues…”
Foster was the only remaining councillor to speak in favour of the motion, saying the 2019 budget process was a good example of the intent of the motion.
“We have tonight an example that speaks to the motion,” Foster said. “Inaccurate budget reports. And that is the spirit and intent of this motion.”
Linton called a point of order and said Foster’s comments about the budget were out of order.
With Kitras and McElwain still absent, Linton moved Kitras’ motion.
“You’re kidding me, it’s his motion,” Foster said. “You can’t move somebody else’s motion.”
Linton responded, “There’s no requirement to be here for somebody to move his motion.”
The motion was ultimately defeated, with Linton, VanLeeuwen, Dunsmore and MacRae voting against it. Foster abstained from casting a vote.
Linton also brought forward another motion to prevent discussion about the performance of the CAO in a notice of motion.
“From this point forward, for this council we’re not going to do that,” Linton said.
The resolution passed with Foster abstaining.