Poorly behaved North Cowichan council members could face fines

North Cowichan council members could face financial penalties for bad behaviour under new rules.

A first offence could see pay docked for 12 months, starting at 10 per cent, then 15 per cent and finally 25 per cent for subsequent infractions. A first-time offence would run to about $3,000 for a councillor and close to $8,000 for the mayor.

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Mayor Al Siebring said Thursday the move wasn’t prompted by any problems around the council table — in fact, council members voted unanimously this month in favour of the penalties.

He said the aim is to provide a deterrent to poor behaviour, adding North Cowichan is the only municipality in B.C. that allows financial penalties for council members. Other municipalities are looking at the wording of North Cowichan’s bylaws.

The new provisions were drawn up in consultation with the municipality’s legal counsel, Siebring said.

The list of potential infractions cited include abusive language, bullying, discrimination, intimidation, violence, vandalism, harassment, possession of weapons and theft. Less-serious offences, which could include bad language, would not necessarily mean a pay cut, Siebring said. “For minor offences, it wouldn’t escalate to docking pay, but this gives us the option if things ramp up, to ramp up the penalties.”

Council already has sanction options that have been used in the past, allowing it to remove a council member from committees or ban travel.

The new rules have their roots in a situation on the previous council that resulted in non-financial sanctions being imposed, but Siebring said he couldn’t get into specifics because it was addressed in a confidential meeting.

At the time, council said it needed more sanction options.

“It was just one of those things that got delayed for a while, but we are there now,” Siebring said.

The bylaw requires that a third-party investigation be carried out prior to a council member’s pay being docked. Those kinds of investigations can cost $25,000 to $30,000, Siebring said, and penalties are intended to help offset those costs.

To allow the financial penalties to go into effect, council passed an amendment to its remuneration bylaw and approved a respectful spaces bylaw.

“I acknowledge that there’s a perspective in the community that this is overkill,” Siebring told council. “I don’t think it is.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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