Council votes to suspend committees after mayor appoints friends, supporters

City committees suspended

UPDATE: 3:50 p.m.

Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson was repeatedly asked about his interest in creating an equitable process to choose citizen appointees for committees during a special council meeting on Tuesday, finally answering he thinks “that it’s possible.”

Council voted Tuesday to suspend the activities of the city’s standing committees pending a review of the committee structure and terms of reference. The work will be undertaken by a new select committee consisting of three yet-to-be-determined members of council.

Coun. Kelly Hall, who is deputy mayor this month and who took on chair duties for Tuesday’s meeting, will be responsible for appointing the new committee members.

The move came after a document was leaked showing the mayor made sweeping changes to the city’s standing committees last week, naming new chairs and adding a number of citizen appointees — some of whom are his friends and election campaign supporters.

Tuesday’s special council meeting saw council discuss how they would move forward with reviewing at the standing committees, with some councillors, including Coun. Stephen Karpuk, pressing Hamer-Jackson about his rationale for the committee appointments.

Hamer-Jackson has defended his actions, pointing to his authority to name committee members under the Community Charter and the qualifications of those he appointed. He said he was still looking for another appointee for the city’s finance committee.

Coun. Katie Neustaeter told Hamer-Jackson she had been approached by “more people than I could count” over the weekend who said they would have liked the opportunity to be considered for a committee seat.

"There were also other candidates who ran in the election who said the same thing — people who are tremendously qualified and would serve very well on these committees, but they were denied the opportunity because there was no fair process to be involved in that,” Neustaeter said.

“I hope that when you say you are interviewing people, and you are looking for options on the committees, I hope that means that you are developing a process that would be fair for all community members.”

Hamer-Jackson told Neustaeter to email her those names so he could consider them as well, to which Neustaeter replied she would be “tremendously uncomfortable making specific recommendations.”

“I am certainly not comfortable hand-picking and appointing people because of personal connections,” she said.

“So I'm just going to ask you one more time, are you developing an equitable process with unbiased vetting that would serve this democracy?”

Hamer-Jackson said he didn’t know what kind of process she was talking about, but asked her to email him with a further explanation.

Neustaeter asked her question twice more, after which Hamer-Jackson seemed somewhat agreeable.

“I think that it’s possible,” he said.

“If you could come up with a a process that would that would work really well, I think that would be awesome.”

After the meeting, Neustaeter said she has previously repeatedly offered her assistance to Hamer-Jackson, but was not taken up on it.

“But it stands,” Neustaeter said of her offer to help.

“I think it's tremendously important that if we put members of the public on standing committees — which I don't take issue with, in theory — that it is fair for all of our community, that that opportunity isn't limited to folks we know, or have been supporters, but instead that there will be a process that serves everyone fairly and is available to all.”

Council voted 8-1 on three motions, which will ultimately see the standing committees paused, studied, and further recommendations brought forward. Hamer-Jackson was the only member opposed to all three motions.

“It's transparency, and what you saw today was good leadership and good governance,” Hall said after the meeting.

“We recognize that there was some challenges, so we addressed those challenges. We've struck a good standing committee that's going to come forward in bringing suggestions forward to the council. And we can adopt those resolutions and those recommendations.”

According to city staff, about 145 members of the public tuned into the meeting online, with dozens seated in the gallery. A community services officer was present at the meeting to provide security.

UPDATE: 12:45 p.m.

Kamloops councillors have voted to suspend the activities of the city’s standing committees pending a review of their structures and rules after the mayor last week made radical changes without consulting council.

On Thursday, Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson shared a document with council naming new standing committee rosters, including a number of citizen appointees. Castanet Kamloops obtained a copy of the document and reported on its contents.

Hamer-Jackson defended the moves and said he decided to make the changes because councillors were overworked.

The following day, the city’s eight councillors called a news conference at which Coun. Katie Neustaeter, speaking on behalf of the group, read aloud a statement alleging the mayor was lying about his reasoning for the changes and accusing him of “belittling” and “chaotic" behaviour.

Council called a special meeting for Tuesday. Hamer-Jackson initially said he would not attend but was present via Zoom.

At the meeting, council voted to hit pause on all standing committees while a three-person committee of councillors reviews the terms of reference for the committees — the rules about how they operate.

Two councillors — Stephen Karpuk and Bill Sarai — had heated exchanges with Hamer-Jackson during the meeting.

Karpuk repeatedly asked the mayor why he made the changes and Hamer-Jackson repeatedly pointed to his authority to do so and the qualifications of the people he appointed.

Sarai then accused the mayor of failing to work with council.

“You are getting advice and you’re getting direction from people that weren’t elected, but you aren’t getting any advice or direction from the eight people who were elected alongside you,” he said.

During the meeting, Hamer-Jackson said the document he shared with council last week was not “a done deal,” rather a suggestion or a starting point.

Coun. Mike O’Reilly then read aloud the entirety of the email accompanying the document: “Good morning, the mayor has made revisions to the standing committees. Please see attached. Thank you.”

“That, to me and I think everybody around this table, was not received as a proposal,” he said.

“This was a unilateral decision that was made by the mayor, and that’s how it was received. This was not open to discussion. This was a decision by the mayor.”

O’Reilly described the terms of reference currently in place surrounding the city’s standing committees as “weak.” Councillors indicated they were concerned about the fact rules surrounding code-of-conduct and confidentiality will not apply to citizen appointees.

A number of the citizens appointed by Hamer-Jackson were his friends and supporters. During Tuesday's meeting, Hamer-Jackson seemed receptive when asked by Neustaeter whether he would be open to establishing an "unbiased" process for making citizen appointments.

ORIGINAL STORY: 10:59 a.m.

Kamloops city councillors are meeting Tuesday morning to discuss terms of reference for committees following a unilateral move last week by the mayor that saw a number of councillors stripped of chair positions and others removed altogether.

Last Thursday, a document was sent to reporters showing Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson made radical changes to the city’s standing committee appointments.

He removed some councillors from chair positions and appointed citizens — including some of his friends and supporters. Two people appointed made financial contributions to the mayor’s campaign last fall, according to Elections BC data.

The move by Hamer-Jackson prompted an unusual news conference at city hall last Friday at which Coun. Katie Neustaeter read a prepared statement on behalf of the entire council accusing the mayor of lying about his motivation for making the changes.

The statement also accused the mayor of “belittling” and “chaotic” behaviour at city hall.

Hamer-Jackson has defended his choice of appointees, pointing to the accomplishments of individuals like Bud Smith, Sonny Leonard, Jim Budnaryk and Deb Newby.

Castanet Kamloops has a reporter at the meeting. This story will be updated.

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