Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson secretly recorded a phone call he had with the city’s CAO and then attempted twice to have the transcript read aloud Tuesday during a council meeting, including by handing the document off to a member of the public to recite on his behalf.
The meeting on Tuesday largely focused on discussing a path forward for the Noble Creek Irrigation System, which has provided water to several Westsyde farms for decades but is now threatened by significant erosion on North Thompson riverbanks.
Dozens of Noble Creek users have attended recent council meetings, expressing frustration with what they say has been a lack of communication and action from the city on the matter.
After opening Tuesday’s meeting and moving into the public inquiries portion of the agenda, Hamer-Jackson announced he had handed a resident a statement to bring forward to the podium.
“I guess to begin with, I feel a little responsible for all of this, what’s going on,” Hamer-Jackson said, referring to the often-tense dialogue and decision-making occurring about the irrigation system.
He told council earlier in the year, he received a call from a citizen who wanted him to meet some Noble Creek users, after which he called city CAO David Trawin.
In June, council voted to decommission the irrigation system at the end of the 2023 growing season due to the severity of the erosion. Council has now directed staff to seek options that would give farmers an additional year of irrigation to allow more time to find a permanent solution.
“I told these Noble Creek users they were going to be fine for this year, and that we would be working with other parties together for solutions, and I did that on the direction of CAO Trawin,” he said, adding he gave his statement to a Noble Creek user to read on his behalf.
“When I talked to CAO Trawin, ah you know, whatever — but anyway, I just thought I'd get that read out because, I fear for, you know, because of our actions, I feel that the corporation could be at legal risk in my opinion, so maybe you can just read that out," Hamer-Jackson said.
Maria Mazzotta, the city's corporate officer, told Hamer-Jackson the public inquiries portion of the agenda is an opportunity for citizens to address council with their own concerns, noting council members have ample opportunity to speak. She added Hamer-Jackson could be perceived as being in a conflict of interest if the mayor and meeting chair also puts forward a public inquiry.
Hamer-Jackson then asked Mazzotta if she’d like to read out the statement instead.
“That would likewise be inappropriate,” she said.
The citizen who had been handed the transcript said he wasn’t sure if it was relevant to the issue at hand because he hadn’t had time to give it a look.
“I understand and respect the position you've been put in, that this has just been handed to you and you're not even aware of the contents, and we're clear that you are not speaking as yourself here,” Mazzotta told him, before re-stating her concerns about the situation.
Hamer-Jackson said he would “listen to the corporate officer” and read out his statement himself — which he attempted to do later in the meeting.
He asked for further detail about decisions made by the past council in regards to the irrigation system before pivoting to mention the phone call with Trawin.
Earlier this summer, as first reported by Kamloops This Week, a third-party investigation determined Hamer-Jackson violated council’s code of conduct by disrespecting or demeaning three city staff members, including Trawin. Special rules have since been imposed on Hamer-Jackson's interactions with Trawin.
“I’m not trying to throw anybody under the bus or anything, but this year, I was supposed to be calling the forest minister and I had a call from some of the users. And so I called CAO Trawin on March 22,” Hamer-Jackson said during Tuesday's meeting, before Coun. Mike O’Reilly interjected.
“Point of order — I would like to have this adjourned, this portion that you’re about to read out, until we can verify the authenticity of it,” O’Reilly said. “And then can we seek legal opinion on what you’re about to read, this transcript of Mr. Trawin.”
“No, no, that’s OK, this was a conversation just between me and Mr. Trawin,” Hamer-Jackson replied.
O’Reilly repeated that he would like to have it removed from discussion until council can get legal guidance and review the transcript’s authenticity.
Mazzotta asked Hamer-Jackson to clarify he was about to read a transcript of a recorded conversation he had with the CAO, which the mayor confirmed.
“Did you notify CAO Trawin that he was being recorded?” Mazzotta asked.
“No,” Hamer-Jackson said.
“Then I think that speaks to Coun. O’Reilly’s point,” Mazzotta replied.
“Well, I was in a vehicle,” said Hamer-Jackson, who tried to add more details about the call before he was cut off by councillors.
“The will of council, if we can call a vote on it, is to have this struck and removed for conversation until we get legal opinion. That’s the will of council,” O’Reilly said.
“I’m really sorry about that. I’ll hold off on it,” Hamer-Jackson said.
When contacted by Castanet Kamloops after the meeting, Hamer-Jackson said he spoke with Trawin on the phone about the Noble Creek Irrigation System while he was in the car, and his wife recorded the conversation.
He said his wife sometimes takes notes for him when he takes a call while driving, and he didn't immediately realize she was recording this conversation.
Hamer-Jackson said during the March call, he was told the Noble Creek users "were good for this year," information he relayed to them when they later met. A few months later, in May, he received a call from senior staff saying the mayor had to sign a state of emergency to put rip rap in to protect the intake. He said he thought based on the prior conversation that this work had already been done.
"I just wanted to refresh [Trawin's] memory to remind him and myself that, you know, I said something to the users that could put us at risk, I felt," Hamer-Jackson said, denying he tried to read out the transcript to publicly embarrass the CAO.
When asked why the mayor brought forward a transcript of the call instead of summarizing the conversation, Hamer-Jackson said the conversation was "lengthy" and he wanted to be accurate and transparent.
The mayor said he thought it would be "easier" for a member of the public to read the conversation aloud.
"I didn't think it would be a big deal," he said.
Hamer-Jackson refused to provide a copy of the transcript to Castanet Kamloops when asked, noting he had provided a verbal summary of the conversation instead.