White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin announced Monday that a councillor was censured by his city colleagues last month after publishing comments that city lawyers considered to be defamatory.
A motion of censure was passed against Coun. David Chesney at a March 23 in-camera meeting, according to a statement read by Baldwin, who explained the reprimand resulted in Chesney’s removal from committees and the deputy-mayor rotation until January 2016. (Council had approved a new rotation list April 13, but Baldwin said then that city officials could not comment because the decision was made in-camera.)
“The censure was a result of Coun. Chesney as publisher/editor of the White Rock Sun acting in a manner unbecoming of a city councillor and not in accordance with city policy, respectful workplace policy 405, whereby comments considered to be defamatory were published in the online newspaper,” Baldwin said in his prepared statement. “The defamatory nature of the comments were confirmed by legal counsel.”
Asked by Peace Arch News the next day whether the comments – posted online at Chesney’s website, www.whiterocksun.com – were conclusively defamatory, Baldwin said the city’s counsel advised them they were “most likely” defamatory.
“You’d have to go to court to make that determination,” he said.
Baldwin said in his statement – and later reaffirmed to PAN – that it was Chesney’s request that the matter be kept in-camera, prior to Monday’s meeting. However, Chesney told PAN Tuesday morning there was “confusion” over that aspect, but that he could not elaborate on the matter as he was awaiting further legal counsel.
Neither Baldwin nor Chesney would specify what the comments were, however, they both confirmed that they were not written by Chesney himself.
“(Chesney) was asked if he took responsibility for what is published on his website and he said, ‘yes, I read every word and approve it,’” Baldwin said.
Chesney said the author of the comments, whom he would not name, has “not been involved in this at all.”
The portion of the comments considered defamatory was removed from the website within a week of being published, Chesney said.
Baldwin said council decided, at Chesney’s request, to release the in-camera information after an April 17 PAN article about the councillor’s absence from committees and the deputy-mayor rotation led to an onslaught of speculation from residents.
“Coun. Chesney was so dismayed with the questions he was getting that he wanted the whole thing to go public,” Baldwin said.
Council reviews in-camera process
In response to recent criticism about decisions made in-camera by council in recent months – including the revelation that council has met in-camera 10 times since the start of the term – the city this week released a summary of the content of those meetings.
Items ranged from personnel matters to negotiations for municipal services, and included legal advice for the council censure, which was first discussed Feb. 16, then again on March 2 and 23.
Baldwin told PAN after Monday’s meeting that the city would continue to release similar overviews of in-camera meetings on a quarterly basis.
City staff ‘dreadfully unhappy’
Also at Monday’s meeting, a motion by Coun. Helen Fathers to direct staff to create a ‘whistleblower policy’ was approved.
The policy would be designed to “protect staff and members of council” from retribution should they report any conduct that is illegal, immoral or harmful.
Fathers – the sole councillor to vote against the amended rotation list on April 13 – told PAN that other municipalities have such a policy, including Surrey, one of the first in Canada to enact such a policy in 2006.
She said it’s “just the right time” for the policy. Although she wouldn’t directly link her motion to recent council occurrences, she said city hall is “not a friendly environment.”
“I think the environment we’re in right now is a hostile environment,” Fathers said, noting a distinct divide on council. “I think there’s a bit of a penchant for trying to get us. And apart from the council issues, there’s a lot of employees that are saying to me that they’re dreadfully unhappy with the way things are going on. So it would be protection for them as well.”
Fathers had previously attempted to get a ‘whistleblower policy’ in place in White Rock in May 2012; the motion was not seconded.