The District of Sechelt council elected in 2022. From left to right: Coun. Dianne McLauchlan, Coun. Donna Bell, Coun. Alton Toth, Mayor John Henderson, Coun. Darren Inkster, Coun. Brenda Rowe and Coun. Adam Shepherd.District of Sechelt

A governance audit of the District of Sechelt has recommended its mayor issue a public apology for his role in “the dysfunction within Council.” 

The audit, requested by the municipality in February and conducted by George B Cuff & Associates Ltd, is aimed to reestablish respectful dialogue in and outside of council chambers and the district office. 

While the 30-page executive summary was made public June 28, the full report remains confidential, said the report’s cover letter.

The problems council has faced since its outset in 2022 have become more entrenched over time says the report, as it calls for a change in approach from council and senior management, including the CAO, and a “sincere effort” to overcome obstacles created through misunderstood roles and mayoral authority.

When it comes to dysfunction, the audit provides insight into what it could have looked like if council had been operating as expected since its election in 2022. The audit summarizes, “This Council has spent far too much time and nervous energy trying to cope with the internal turmoil which has and will handicap their efforts in moving the needle on anything new that some or even all would like to accomplish.”

“This ‘turmoil’ is the result of the poor relationship between the mayor and councillors which began shortly after the election and has continued to this date and the totally inadequate level of respect and trust between the mayor and CAO,” the report said.

Noting that leadership and “tone” start at the top, the responsibility for this state of affairs lands largely at the feet of the mayor, said the report. He is “accountable for his motivation (or lack thereof) and efforts to pull all of Council together so that they can function effectively” even when divided, it went on. 

The audit interview found the relationship between councillors and the CAO has been sound with councillors expressing their thankfulness for the advice and reports they have received and that most are concerned (to varying degrees) with respect to the Mayor-CAO relationship.

It adds that issues in this relationship should have been addressed during the annual performance assessment of the CAO.

“The impasse that we have witnessed will quite likely persist until the mayor recognizes that any rapprochement with council needs to begin with his apology and to reach out to see what words, steps, actions council as a whole deem adequate,” the report said. 

Mayor’s role

A thorough section outlines the roles of the mayor and council. 

The mayor is meant to protect council from disreputable harm and also “provide assurance to the CAO and management/administration that their professionalism and independence will not be under verbal assault,” which the report states has not happened.

The mayor should speak as the lead spokesperson for the council and its decisions – not as an individual, said the report. Through this, the report says the mayor is expected to endorse council’s approved position on any topic. It adds that jurisdictions such as the SCRD and province expect to hear the district’s official position rather than the “counsel or positions taken by the Mayor.”

Expectations 

A lengthy list of expectations were laid out for the mayor, the most relating to interactions such as lifting up rather than disregarding the value that all other elected officials bring to the table, understanding that he is not empowered to act as a boss to the CAO and advising the public of council’s decisions rather than his own. 

Council has a respective list of expectations as well, including acting as the representative voice of its citizens, hearing all sides of an issue and discerning what opinions predominate. They are also expected to “hold the line” against creating an expectation in the minds of the public that council has the authority to act on issues that are in regional district, provincial or federal jurisdiction.

“The practice known as ‘strategic planning’ never really got underway in Sechelt because everyone on council seemed more focused on role identity,” the report said. 

Recommendations 

The report ends with five pages of recommendations, directed to the mayor, council, CAO and staff.

Among them, the audit recommended that council, CAO and senior management undertake a “reset” relative to roles, responsibilities, style of leadership and governance and review a  mayor-CAO covenant to “commit both parties to a fresh start or a combined conclusion.”

A council-CAO covenant is also proposed, intended to commit both parties to seek trust in their relationship.

A “fresh approach” to the orientation of the subsequent council members was also recommended and that council endorse the “Council Communication Principles,” appendix. (None of the appendices were included in the publicly released document.)  

The audit recommended that the “Mayor issue a public apology for his role in the dysfunction within council and include in his statement his commitment to a renewed effort in becoming a more effective team player.”

Further, the report suggested the mayor establish a regular meeting schedule with the CAO and provide a statement to council at a regular meeting indicating his acceptance of the need for changes in how he perceives and delivers his important role.

The audit recommends that council pursue a CAO performance review within the next 60 days through an independent advisor. 

It also recommended that the CAO endorse all “requests for decision” and any other business items going to council by including his signature on each item.

The report concludes by saying “This will take an adjustment by both council and the administration (not either or) or these recommendations (and this report) will be, unfortunately, without much lasting value.”

Mayor John Henderson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Jordan Copp is the Coast Reporter’s civic and Indigenous affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

By District of Sechelt

Original Published on Jul 01, 2024 at 10:40

This item reprinted with permission from   Coast Reporter   Sechelt, British Columbia

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