The Ministry of Municipal Affairs is getting in touch with Qualicum Beach city hall after strained relations led to one councillor announcing a two-month medical leave of absence.
Council members disagree on whether there is even a problem that needs fixing.
“We are aware of the situation and ministry staff are reaching out to staff in the local government of Qualicum Beach to offer resources and support,” a ministry official said in a statement.
Coun. Robert Filmer, 22, is taking a two-month leave because of the “toxic” environment at city hall, describing it as unsafe and unkind.
Qualicum Beach Mayor Brian Wiese disagrees and said remaining council members will continue to work on the strategic plan and long-term goals for the community.
Council members look forward to Filmer returning, the mayor said.
Today, there are only three members on what is normally a five-member council in Qualicum Beach. Adam Walker was on council but resigned after being elected MLA for Parksville-Qualicum in the recent provincial election.
A byelection date has not been set.
Qualicum Beach council has a quorum, and thus is able to continue with its three members, the ministry said.
“Council members and all members are expected to conduct themselves with honesty and integrity and in a way that furthers a local government’s ability to provide good governance to their communities,” it said.
Councils have access to tools, including a provincial website, designed to help local officials, the statement said.
Disputes around council tables in other B.C. municipalities have made headlines.
The previous Nanaimo council was known for its fractious relationship. North Saanich hired a mediator in 2012 to help council members work together. When Colwood’s first council was elected in 1985, one of its members quit in frustration after just six weeks.
Frank Leonard, a former Saanich mayor and a governance consultant, said: “Having disagreements is part of the DNA of a political body. And everyone needs to figure out how to have those disagreements without being disagreeable or worse.”
Council members don’t need to be friends or agree, but they should be respectful, he said.
Leonard said he believes voters deliberately elect a mix of councillors from different backgrounds and with different views to reflect the diversity in a community.
He suggests Qualicum Beach councillors have conversations separately and as a group.
Their New Year’s resolution could be to learn to talk to each other, he said.
The city manager could put some options in front of council to help it to move forward, said Leonard, adding the byelection is an opportunity to start afresh, since it’s common after elections for council members to sit down and have strategic planning sessions.
In this case, they could also discuss how they will work together, he said, noting a third party might be useful.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities will work with council members, and the Local Government Leadership Academy in B.C., backed by the UBCM, the province and other agencies, offers workshops and programs to help elected officials develop their skills.