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North Saanich hires mediator to help councillors and administration get along

Nov 22 2012

North Saanich, long known for its rancorous politics, has brought in a mediator to try to help councillors learn to get along with each other and with their top administrator.

The district is spending up to $5,000 to hire mediator Gordon Sloan.

Mayor Alice Finall said Sloan was brought in to help councillors work through issues of "process and council civility."

"I wasn't really sure myself what the reasoning was [to bring in a mediator], but I was prepared to do that with the assistance of a disinterested third party, because being a participant and also being the facilitator doesn't usually work," Finall said.

Former mayor and current councillor Ted Daly said the difficulties date to when this council was elected last year. At a testy inaugural meeting, the council opted to make him the district's representative at the Capital Regional District board table instead of Finall.

Daly, who has had 19 years of municipal experience, said something had to be done to calm the waters. The first session was held Tuesday, he said. "I've been around long enough to realize we needed someone from outside to come in and help us," he said.

Both Finall and Daly eschewed the label "dysfunctional" to describe how council is operating. Daly called the situation disappointing while Finall said it was reflective of a lack of respect.

Daly said the original idea of hiring a mediator was to help councillors work out issues among themselves but has expanded to include relations with chief administrative officer Rob Buchan. He said Buchan's contract specifies that the chief administrative officer alone deals with staff. Councillors must work through him.

"I can't even talk to our director of planning and I can't talk to any of our guys," Daly said. "I think the world of our staff but I can't talk to our director of planning. The only time I can talk to him is at a council meeting. I can't pick up the phone and call him."

Buchan would not comment on the situation, deferring to Finall.

The decision to hire Sloan came after councillors voted to remove from its Nov. 5 council agenda a report authored by Buchan regarding comments made by Coun. Dunstan Browne at an earlier council meeting. Browne had said he was not provided with information he needed to do his job as an alternate Capital Regional District director.

Buchan's report came with the recommendation: "that council receive this report to set the record straight on the issue raised by Coun. Browne on Oct. 1, 2012." It included emails intended to establish that Browne's comments were inaccurate and he did have all the information needed.

Several councillors argued the report was inappropriate because it was one-sided and the item had originally been discussed in-camera.

After the item was withdrawn, Browne asked that council revisit its discussion about hiring a mediator.

Only Coun. Connie McBride voted against the idea. "I don't like to spend the taxpayers' money to tell us to behave," she said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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