Vernon councillor's motion aims to end 'bias' on City committee appointments | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon councillor's motion aims to end 'bias' on City committee appointments

November 24, 2020 - 5:30 PM

In a move likely to ruffle feathers, Vernon councillor Kari Gares has put forward a notice of motion which would limit the time elected officials could sit on various committees.

The move came hours after Vernon council stuck largely with the status quo when it divvied up more than 30 board and committee seats at its Nov. 23 meeting.

The notice of motion asks for a policy that "encourages fairness" and limits "the perception of personal bias."

While the numerous committees get little attention, the appointment of the 35 seats speaks much to the inner workings of council when you look and see which councillors get which files.

Coun. Gares got the affordable housing committee and seven others, but none of the committees dealing with more meaty files.

It could be argued that councillors who are cozy with Mayor Victor Cumming get the more interesting and prominent committees, while those who don't sit favourably with the mayor get the more mundane files.

And while the mayor doesn't get the final say and just makes the recommendations before council gets to vote, it seems highly unlikely a councillor nominated to a sought-after committee would vote against their appointment.

Second term councillor Scott Anderson, who regularly spars with the mayor, got the Liquid Waste Management Plan Public Advisory Committee among others, while rookie councillor Kelly Fehr, whose votes tend to match that of Cumming, got the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee – a far more influential committee.

Speaking to iNFOnews.ca Mayor Cumming denies the appointments are influenced by favouritism or bias.

"My job is to identify what is the best team," Cumming said. "That's just my viewpoint, I don't know if one would call that bias?"

The Mayor said he tries to pick the best person for the job when making his recommendations. The mayor reiterated the final decision isn't his and the entire council has the ultimate say on who sits on what committees.

The mayor said he wouldn't discuss the committee Coun. Anderson was appointed to. The second term councillor got two sewage based committees, the insurance association, and several other less prestigious seats.

While the mayor disputes there is bias in his decision making, Coun. Gares says it's only natural that some level of bias would creep in.

"That's why this motion is trying to deal with the fact we are humans and with human nature comes bias," Coun. Gares said. "And if we do not know how to control that aspect of our role then it will create problems."

Gares is adamant her motion wasn't about her committee appointments – or lack thereof – and said she put it forward to create a better system.

Currently, committee seats are appointed every year, but Gares' motion would amend that, placing time constraints on how long councillors could sit on each seat.

"I think it's important that we all have an equal opportunity to share our voice in how our community grows over that four-year term," Coun. Gares said. "It gives councillors a broader understanding of all the issues, not just the ones that fall through our council chambers."

While the idea sounds like it has merit, it does have its pitfalls.

Mayor Cumming said because some files are large and lengthy, having committee members already versed in the issues is important and changing committee members each year would only slow things down.

In a system not known for speed, any move with the potential to slow things down is likely to be unpopular.

Gares sees time constraints as an opportunity for committees to get fresh ideas and new perspectives from different councillors.

"I just want to make sure that everybody has an opportunity, we've all been elected, we're all equal in a sense and we should have equal opportunity to learn all elements of our role, and not be pigeon-holed into select committees or select boards," she said.

Vernon council will vote on the notice of motion sometime in the future.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 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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