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Central Saanich councillor's paid leave questioned

Nov 28 2012
Central Saanich councillor Terry Siklenka. 

Central Saanich councillor Terry Siklenka.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , Times Colonist

A "frightening lack of scrutiny" surrounded the decision to grant paid leave to a Central Saanich councillor who turned out to be living in the Cayman Islands, says the lone councillor to vote against the move.

"I felt that the council had made their decision without digging and finding out more about this," said Coun. Zeb King, who voted against the six-month paid leave for Terry Siklenka.

Siklenka resigned his council seat on Monday after media reports that he was working full time in the Cayman Islands while on paid leave from his council duties. His resignation will be formally accepted by Central Saanich council in a public session next Monday.

Because the Nov. 5 decision on his leave was made in a closed session, King was prohibited from speaking about it until council decided to report on it, which it did Monday.

"It's distressing because we've got that fiduciary responsibility and I take that seriously and I hope everybody does. I think these in-camera meetings are dangerous for that reason because they need that scrutiny of people watching and ensuring their elected representatives are asking all the right questions," King said.

"When there's sort of a group think in the room and there's nobody else watching, there's even a more frightening lack of scrutiny. For me, it was a shocker to see that happening."

But Coun. Cathie Ounsted disagreed with King, saying she had enough information to make her decision.

Given the same circumstances, she said, she would grant the leave again.

"We just felt if somebody was having a crisis in their life, the last thing we wanted to do was chop their legs out from underneath them and give them more problems," Ounsted said.

"As well, if we were to have suspended his pay then his benefits would have been suspended, and with that comes the option for counselling and any sort of medical help if the person needs that."

Councillors didn't know Siklenka's whereabouts when they granted the leave.

On Monday, the district released a timeline and a string of emails to document the events surrounding the leave.

Siklenka first asked Mayor Alastair Bryson for leave on Sept. 29. Councillors subsequently approved it during an Nov. 5 in-camera session, and only found out he was in the Caymans after it was reported online on Nov. 20. According to the timeline, municipal staff confirmed that Siklenka was employed and living in Georgetown, Grand Cayman, on Nov. 21.

Knowing that, Ounsted said, "it's appropriate" Sik-lenka resign.

A statement from the district says the correspondence and discussions surrounding the leave request were discussed in-camera "in order to protect personal details as required under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act."

In Siklenka's emails requesting the leave, the reason for the request is blanked out.

Siklenka, meanwhile, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that he left his job at Cairnview Mechanical in September due to stress. He initially decided to spend a week in the Caymans and then three weeks in California before returning home.

On his return, he said, he offered to resign from council but was asked by the district not to do so in order to avoid the cost of a byelection.

However, Bryson and Ounsted said that was not true: Siklenka was never asked not to resign and did not made an offer to do so prior to Monday.

In a television interview with Cayman 27 News on Tuesday, Siklenka said he simply started working in the Caymans while on leave and a few "negative people in the community took offence."

Because he now intends to relocate there permanently, he resigned his council seat, he said.

In his Facebook post, Siklenka said he probably should have done things differently.

"At no time was I or anyone else trying to hurt anyone and always the community's best interests were in the fore front [sic]. Now with all that has happened lately I will see where the future takes me I'm excited and will miss you all a lot. When one door closes another opens," he wrote. bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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