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Kamloops councillors fire back at mayor's shake-up

Kamloops city councillors hosted a press conference on March 17, 2023, to voice their opposition to the mayor's unilateral changes to council committee rosters.

The mayor of Kamloops is taking his authority to its limit by bringing people outside City Hall to help govern, councillors say and they are firing back.

They hosted a press conference in Kamloops council chambers today, March 17, calling Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson's behaviour "erratic" and "disruptive."

"While we as councillors have been subjected to repeated disrespect, violations of personal and professional boundaries, belittling and constantly disruptive behaviour by the mayor, we've been willing to absorb the impact in service to our community," Coun. Katie Neustaeter said while reading from a joint statement, backed by the seven other councillors.

It's the latest and most public display of disdain toward the City's mayor from the rest of council.

Yesterday, Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson issued a new roster for council committees, adding nine members of the public, including two failed council candidates. It was all done by the book, but exasperated his already-strained relationship with the rest of council.

"We want to make it clear that our concerns are not a reflection of our views of the individuals the mayor has hand-picked to serve on committees," Neustaeter said. She said council is concerned about the lack of an "equitable" and "unbiased" process to choose those nine new members.

Hamer-Jackson said he chose the nine outside members because of their qualifications, but it's not clear just how much they align with his personal values and whether that played a role in his decision.

It's unclear what this show of defiance means, in anything. Councillors offered no actions or intentions beyond their complains and they refused to take questions after the press conference, but said there will be a special council meeting on Tuesday, March 21, to discuss Hamer-Jackson's unilateral committee changes. It's not clear whether that meeting will be open to the public.

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It's not clear what councillors can do to force the mayor's hand, as his changes are allowed under B.C. legislation. However, it will clearly make working with the eight other elected officials more of a challenge just six months into his term.

Hamer-Jackson's actions are also attracting attention from others in the province. Former Kelowna city manager and local government consultant Ron Mattiussi broke down the situation.

"He doesn't have a lot of power, but he's using whatever power he has to the utmost," Mattiussi said.

Hamer-Jackson's committee shake-up subverts the previous committee structure in Kamloops, made up of three councillors and advised by City staff, and adds his own outside people to the rosters. That structure was established in 2019, but it doesn't mean he needs the approval of council to make the change.

He told iNFOnews.ca it's because council wasn't on board with his planned "task forces," so he took his own measures.

"This is a good example of the extreme," Mattiussi said. "The power was there. Now we have somebody acting in ways that are not very conventional."

"It's obviously a shrewd move around a roadblock. I think at some point they're going to have to sit around and figure this stuff out, because obviously he's just bypassed their inability to create task forces," Mattiussi said. "He's working within his powers, but is he working, ultimately, in the best interests of the corporation of the City of Kamloops' ability to govern?"

Municipalities often form separate types of committees called "standing" and "select" committees. They don't make decisions on behalf of council, but they can get reports from staff and deal with more minute issues in City policies.

Kamloops has only standing committees whose members, under B.C. local government legislation, the mayor alone can choose. A select committee, which is more similar to Hamer-Jackson's proposed task forces, needs to be created by council.

Penticton uses that model when choosing its committee members for its housing and accessibility task forces, for example. Prior to 2019, Kamloops used a similar process to vet outside members before bringing them onto committees.

READ MORE: Kamloops mayor snubs councillors in committee shuffle

City of Penticton spokesperson Shane Mills said notice will go to the public for applications and staff will create a shortlist of people qualified to advise the City. Then it's up to council to choose its final members.

Hamer-Jackson, however, said he interviewed different people for "months" before finally choosing members of his new committees, including at least one who worked on his campaign and two who failed to get elected in the October election.

While the mayor has the power to make roster changes to City committees, any policy or spending direction from those groups would still have to be approved by council.

"They can meet in committees all day long, but usually council is the only body that can actually approve things," Mattiussi said.

Hamer-Jackson has already been challenged by fellow councillors for not working together or consulting with them at recent public meetings. With the new committee changes, it seems he's not keen on doing so if it sacrifices his own goals as mayor.

READ MORE: Mayor Hamer-Jackson promises five task forces in inaugural speech

Yesterday, March 16, he told iNFOnews.ca he made the changes because voters wanted to see "change."

"People voted for change. Is this not change? And now we're getting the citizens of the community involved," he said.

Hamer-Jackson also told iNFOnews.ca that aside from the task forces he planned to assemble, he wanted to "relieve" councillors of their workload because some are on several committees and boards. Neustaeter, however, said no councillor has ever expressed a desire to work less, calling Hamer-Jackson's claims "blatant untruths."

During Hamer-Jackson's inaugural speech, he said his five task forces would focus separately on drug recovery, attainable housing, healthcare accessibility, transportation and recreation. At the time, he planned to create those task forces in addition to current committees.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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