A letter addressing treatment of senior town staff at a Qualicum Beach town council meeting sparked a conversation about policy and respect at meetings.
Resident John Wood said in his letter he believes some councillors were rude and disrespectful to staff at council’s March 17 meeting. “Senior staff members deserve respect at all times, particularly in these difficult and stressful COVID-19 times,” he wrote.
Coun. Scott Harrison flagged the correspondence for discussion at the April 7 meeting.
At the March meeting, Coun. Robert Filmer said it was inappropriate to hear from Daniel Sailland, the town’s CAO, during debate about a backyard chicken pilot project.
“When we’re changing pilot projects and whatnot, we don’t allow residents to sit in our meeting and plead their case to us before we end a pilot project, but we just allowed one of our staff members to do that exact thing,” Filmer said. “When we start looking at developments — if we start looking at a project that was right beside one of our houses, that’s going to affect us or a decision is going to affect one of us, we have to excuse ourselves.”
Harrison did not agree it was inappropriate and said it is fine to hear town staff’s perspective. Sailland was not granted an opportunity to respond to Filmer’s comments, though he requested permission to address it from Mayor Wiese.
“I was rather disappointed with what was being said at the last council meeting, the way senior staff was being treated is in my view not how we should be conducting ourselves as a council,” Harrison said at the April 7 meeting. “There is existing town policy that staff are supposed to participate in debate, so to try to create an atmosphere through some of the comments where staff feel reluctant to participate actually then impoverishes council’s decision making capabilities.”
Filmer stood by his opinion and acknowledged the town CAO is permitted to engage in debate with council. “If you are going to enter debate, you have entered debate and if there is criticism that is going to come, it is not rude, it is not disrespectful — it’s criticism and it is my own opinion,” he said.
“Just to remind citizens then of what you said — you said that it was legally improper for our CAO to participate in debate. That is not debate, that is an accusation,” Harrison responded. “It is inappropriate to suggest that staff is doing something contrary to the law in a debate.” Filmer did not get a chance to respond to this comment.
Harrison also pointed to an incident he saw as “deeply inappropriate” from the meeting where Coun. Teunis Westbroek commented on being interrupted by a member of staff.
“That’s not how you treat people in general in any professional circumstance, let alone elected office,” Harrison said.
Westbroek agreed with Filmer and said he believes he was not out of line. He said “respect works both ways” and commented that it is inappropriate for anybody to be interrupted.
“I wondered why this letter was even pulled out because if we are going pull letters out about what people think of what we say and do at council meetings, we are going to have very long meetings,” Westbroek said.