Fathers disputes mayor’s claim of privilege breach

Second councillor secures independent legal counsel, as allegations abound in White Rock.

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin (centre) and city councillors (clockwise from top left) Bill Lawrence

A second White Rock city councillor is disputing a statement made by the mayor last week in regards to allegedly defamatory online comments that led to the censure of Coun. David Chesney.

After Mayor Wayne Baldwin told Peace Arch News that information published on Chesney’s website was “a matter of privilege” – an allegation Chesney denied – Coun. Helen Fathers said she was “upset by the changing stance” of the mayor.

Fathers told PAN that Baldwin made no prior mention to council about privileged information being published, which would have led to harsher consequences for Chesney.

“If that would have happened, we would have actually been in an in-camera meeting, which we weren’t,” Fathers said Monday. “This council would for sure be following process if Coun. Chesney had released privileged information. There’s a process attached to that. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

Baldwin did not return PAN’s calls by press deadline.

Fathers confirmed that – like Chesney – she’s secured legal counsel, following events that unfolded after she was the lone council member to vote against the deputy-mayor rotation list on April 13.

“All I can tell you is that circumstances arose after the item on the open-council agenda, and it led me to seek legal advice,” she said.

It was after the April 13 vote that speculation began as to why Chesney was not included on the deputy-mayor rotation. Baldwin later revealed publicly, on April 27, that council had voted to censure Chesney, and as a result he had been removed from “external representations,” committees and the deputy-mayor rotation until 2016.

Last week, Chesney posted a lengthy entry on his website – www.whiterocksun.com – detailing what he described as his version of the events leading up to Baldwin’s censure announcement.

Chesney said that shortly after the November election, he met with Baldwin privately, who “urged me to divorce myself from the White Rock Sun.” When Chesney refused, he said, the mayor told him to “be careful and that he would be watching me.”

In the website post, Chesney linked to a Feb. 9 column – with the alleged defamatory comments removed – written by Don Pitcairn, about rail safety along the waterfront. Though Chesney does not name the councillor who was the target of the offending comments, the column is critical of Coun. Grant Meyer’s appointment as the chair of the city’s rail safety task force.

According to Chesney, he brought the article to the attention of the mayor and councillor in question and the following week was told he would be censured; when he agreed to remove the offending reference and apologize, Baldwin said the “whole mess would disappear.”

Chesney said Baldwin later told him the councillor felt his apology was insincere, and the agreement was off.

“It was at this point that I felt I was under siege,” Chesney writes.

When contacted for confirmation that he was the councillor targeted, Meyer would not comment beyond Baldwin’s prepared statement announcing the censure.

“If I said anything outside of those statements, then I could be censured for disclosing from a closed meeting,” Meyer told PAN Sunday.

Pitcairn did not respond to PAN’s request for comment, but in a White Rock Sun column posted Monday he alluded to the issue.

“Because of legal threats, intimidation and outright bullying, the (column) you were to read today, titled ‘Censureship,’ cannot be posted until it is vetted by (legal counsel).”

Fathers noted that when media reports surfaced last week on comments Chesney made about maternity wear,  Couns. Lynne Sinclair and Meyer quickly took to social media to share negative coverage.

“I watched Sinclair and Meyer, between the two of them, retweet, tweet and post to Facebook over 53 times in the space of over 20 hours,” Fathers said. “What does that say? What it tells me is that there’s definitely an air of extreme hostility currently with this council, and it’s really not an environment that is pleasant to work in.”

It’s not the first time Fathers has described the atmosphere at city hall as unpleasant; last week, after tabling a motion at the April 27 council meeting for staff to explore a Whistleblower Policy, Fathers told PAN that city employees were “dreadfully unhappy” with the environment at city hall.

After press deadline Tuesday morning for Wednesday’s print edition, Meyer and Sinclair, in separate phone calls, contacted PAN to address their social-media activity regarding Chesney’s controversial comments.

Meyer denied that his tweets and retweets were meant to draw negative attention to Chesney, rather to “get the right messaging out” that the majority of council did not share Chesney’s views.

“It’s not White Rock council,” Meyer said. “Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest stories about White Rock in quite a number of years, and it’s not just a big story but it’s a negative story.

“I’m just trying to make sure people realize that it’s not all of us on council.”

Sinclair echoed Meyer’s statement, noting she had been “inundated with calls and emails” in the days following the coverage of Chesney’s comments.

“I thought it was very important to make sure that people understood that it didn’t represent the views of White Rock council,” Sinclair said. “Nobody had to spread anything. It was on national news.

“It’s an embarrassment for White Rock, there’s no question.”

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