By Kirk Starratt
What started as a debate regarding a proposed municipal governance study ended with an allegation that one councillor had breached the county's code of conduct.
At the Oct. 1 Kings County council session, a motion was defeated that would have supported an independent review of governance in the county. Coun. Kim MacQuarrie introduced another motion, but in the chaos of members of the public storming out, some councillors didn’t vote on the motion.
“I couldn’t hear the motion for the sound of citizens leaving the room,” Coun. Pauline Raven declared.
Warden Diana Brothers ruled Raven out of order, but allowed the vote to be held again. However, before the second vote, Raven said she wouldn’t be supporting the motion because she believed “significant discussion” had taken place between meetings involving only some members of council. She said the motion was “clearly made in advance” of the meeting.
“With all due respect, I think the disrespectful things going on in the chambers aren’t in the moment; they’re happening between meetings,” Raven said.
Prior to the second vote, Raven said there had been a “misrepresentation” or “manipulation” of information in the council chambers that evening. Brothers again ruled Raven out of order.
Following a break, municipal solicitor Andrew Montgomery reviewed the councillor’s code of conduct. He said allegations of “manipulation” or “misrepresentations of information” are serious and are subject to a council investigation and, perhaps, a formal reprimand. Usually, a member is asked to withdraw the comments or leave the meeting, he added.
Brothers said she was bringing up the code of conduct allegation on behalf of the chief administrator. She asked Raven to withdraw her comments and to apologize to CAO Tom MacEwan.
Raven said she would withdraw her comments if she could put another comment in its place. However, Brothers would not allow that.
“Then I won’t withdraw my comment,” Raven said.
Brothers responded, “Then this is subject to the investigation of council.”
She asked the recording secretary not to include Raven’s comments in the record. Brothers said Raven’s other comments would also be looked into.
During the public comment period, former councillor Merrill Ward said he never ceases to be amazed with what happens at council sessions. He said this was only the second time he has witnessed a councillor called on an action in this manner.
During the previous incident, the councillor refused to apologize and was led out of chambers until the councillor did so.
“I was surprised the councillor was allowed to keep her chair,” Ward said. “It shows a total disrespect for this chamber.”
Warden, councillor react
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Following the meeting, Brothers said she has had to deal with only one other code of conduct allegation during her time as warden and she had the assistance of the chief administrator at that time. However, since this allegation involves the CAO, she feels it’s appropriate to seek independent advice on an investigation into Raven’s comments.
“I’m talking to someone else about how to handle it and what approach we should be taking,” Brothers said.
The warden said this is a sensitive issue that she doesn’t take lightly, adding the code is in place to promote respect among councillors. All Kings County councillors sign the code after being sworn into office.
Following the meeting, Raven said the comment she made was a response to both the CAO’s portrayal of regional governance study motions passed in Wolfville and Kentville and the introduction of a motion prepared in advance of the meeting. Raven added she believed MacQuarrie's motion “was clearly intended to scuttle a motion duly recommended by council as a whole, not circulated in advance to councillors, only to the warden and CAO.”
Raven said she was willing to withdraw her comment if she could replace it with a comment that qualified the context in which her original comment was made.
“My intent was to defend a motion duly recommended by council and aimed at passing a motion to move a study of governance in Kings County steadily forward,” Raven said.
She said she would have preferred to hear the views of other councillors on this important topic versus the views of the administrator.
“Isn’t informed debate amongst elected representatives the central principle of a functioning democracy?” she said.
Raven's proposed replacement comment:
“I believe it is my responsibility as an elected represent to debate based on the facts at hand. Due diligence in this instance required councillors to be well aware in advance of our meeting of the motions passed by the Towns of Berwick, Kentville and Wolfville. I did not need to have these motions explained or interpreted for me by the CAO.
"Knowing this was coming up I had on hand and had studied the specifics of those motions. The motions passed by the TOW and TOK both clearly indicated a positive stance regarding the completion of a governance study. The fact the motions were contingent on acceptable terms of reference did not nullify the fact that both towns were looking favourably on a study. During the debate, the CAO was pushing a view that in my opinion was inaccurate regarding the motions passed by the TOW and the TOK. I would have asked that the reference to misrepresentation be changed to an “inaccurate” portrayal of the facts aimed at the defeat of a motion previously recommended by council.”
A special county council meeting is planned on Oct. 9 at 5 p.m. The only item on the agenda is a “point of order” discussion. For full coverage, visit KingsCountyNews.ca.