Delta’s mayor says it is imperative at least one elected official sit on the Delta police board with rights equal to the provincially-appointed members.
At Monday’s council meeting, Mayor George Harvie brought forward a motion to have Delta’s city manager prepare for council’s review, discussion and approval a submission to the provincial Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act about the need to change and modernize the structure and governance of police boards, provide additional representation of elected council members, and ensure elected council appointees have equal rights to participate on the board.
Stressing he was speaking as Delta’s mayor and and not as police board chair or on behalf of any member of the board, Harvie said he is frustrated by the “severe” restrictions the Police Act places on his role on the board, which include staying neutral at all times, not voting unless there’s a tie, not being able to make motions, and not making any public statements unless approved by the board.
“How can I serve the interests of the citizens of Delta when as the only elected member of council on the board, serving as chair, I can’t vote, can’t have an opinion, can’t make a motion, and can’t make a statement unless approved by the board?” Harvie said. “I even wonder why I’m even there sometimes.”
The mayor’s motion comes on the heels of news last week that the Delta Police Department spent $42,000 to hire a public relations firm to handle communications as the DPD investigated assault allegations against Lorraine Dubord, the wife of Chief Constable Neil Dubord, in June of last year.
“The media recently asked me an important question about an incident involving the use of taxpayer funds in the Delta Police Department. The current restrictions mean I had to stay silent in my role as chair of the board, relegating me to play the part of a defenceless punching bag,” Harvie told council on Monday.
“And that was my frustration last week … where I just said enough’s enough. It wasn’t board members that were getting volumes of emails with disgust about the chair not making a statement. It’s because I couldn’t make a statement unless … it’s approved by the board.”
The Delta police board is made up of Harvie, one civilian member chosen by council, five more appointed independently by the province, and Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Ken Baird, who is a voting member of the board. The board meets once a month, except in July and August. It’s last meeting was on Jan. 20; it’s next meeting is Feb. 17.
Harvie told council he understands the 46-year-old rules in the act are in place to prevent political interference in police matters, and that he firmly agrees with the importance of having a police service that is completely independent when it comes to operational matters.
“However, it is imperative that at least one Delta elected official is represented on the Delta police board, with equal rights as other board members, in order to ensure proper oversight of close to a $50-million in annual funding handover to the [department] from taxpayers every year.”
Harvie said he has spoken with other B.C. mayors who share his frustration.
Coun. Lois Jackson, who served as mayor and police board chair for 19 years, disagreed with Harvie’s assertion that the Police Act is at fault or that the chair, or another elected official, should have that kind of power on the board.
“We do not want to have politics or politicians dictating to the police. There is a very fine line that must be walked, however the mayor has a responsibility to walk that line and to bring forward information to council — in particular relative to spending, that it’s done in a highly-ethical manner,” Jackson said.
“There’s nothing wrong with the Police Act — maybe it needs upgrading (…) and maybe we tweak here or there — but there’s no way that I could ever see that a council or politicians should be controlling the police department.
“That’s what happened in the United States of America, thank you very much, and I don’t want to go there and I know you don’t either. It has to be separate and aside. We give the money to the police department, they operate it.”
Jackson later brought forward her own motion asking whether the police board were aware of the hiring of the PR firm and whether they approved the expenditure.
Both Harvie and Jackson’s motions passed, along with another by Harvie that asks staff to develop a new purchasing policy requiring any expenditures for external services under $50,000 “that do not represent our core services or are unique and in need of transparency” to be reviewed by the city manager and director of finance and, if required, forwarded to council for approval. The motion also called for a letter to be sent to the Delta police board requesting them to consider adopting a similar policy.
On Wednesday (Feb. 10), Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation and MLA for North Delta Ravi Kahlon tweeted he supported the call for the Delta police board to “make transparent who knew what at what time.”
“The public has a right to know,” Kahlon said.