A video of a Maple Ridge council committee meeting was not posted to the district website, as it would be normally, and was reviewed by lawyers, while Coun. Corisa Bell has filed a complaint against a senior staff member.
During that meeting, Bell questioned staff about the 2013 municipal budget.
She has publicly been in disagreement with other members of council in recent weeks on issues from pay parking at the local hospital to construction of a new fire hall in Albion.
And now Bell, first elected in 2011, feels the rest of council no longer wants her to be a part of it.
“The way it feels, they don’t even want me there,” she said.
“They wish I was never elected, that’s how it feels.”
The video of the committee meeting, on June 17, was never posted on the district’s website and Bell was told it was sent to district lawyers to review for possible defamatory comments.
“I didn’t know what I could potentially do to put me in more trouble,” said Bell. “I never imagined in a million years this would be happening.”
Bell had been questioning the budget and said that at the June 17 meeting she felt misinformed or misled about the process.
“It was totally a general statement. It wasn’t prefaced to anyone in particular, but they took offence to it.”
She didn’t mention any names and wasn’t directing comments to anyone in particular.
“No one can even tell me what I’ve done wrong. If I made a mistake, why is nobody advising me on this?” Bell asked.
“If anyone was to take offence, I think it should be council.”
Bell, fearing legal action could be taken against her, wants her own copy of the video from the June 17 meeting. However, she’s been told she can only view it at municipal hall.
“I want a copy of that so I can have my own legal advice.
“They should just give me a copy of that tape,” she said.
“I cannot believe, I’m a city councillor and I have to file an FOI [freedom of information request] to get public property. “What is going on?”
Mayor Ernie Daykin said that Bell can look at the video at district hall, but she can’t have a copy because that would mean losing control of the video.
He wouldn’t comment further.
Coun. Bob Masse said the video was removed from the website to protect the district against possible legal action.
“I understand that it was taken down and that the reason for that was that the district needed to protect itself in case the comments were found to be defamatory.”
According to B.C. Laws website (Libel and Slander Act) broadcasting of public meetings or media reports of them, are “privileged” or protected from legal action.
Bell’s since sought advice and was told it’s ludicrous to remove the videos and keep that from her and the public.
“I don’t know why this involves me and I don’t have access to the same thing the district has access to.”
“Why would the district go to the trouble of removing the video and having it reviewed by a lawyer? Why do they do that?”
Bell has also filed a separate complaint with the District of Maple Ridge human resources department against chief administrative officer Jim Rule, following a conversation after the June 10 council workshop.
She also wrote to the mayor on Monday, asking that Rule be suspended while the complaint is investigated.
Rule, in response, said he has private conversations with individual councillors on district matters, but doesn’t want to discuss those private conversations.
“The mayor is aware of the issue and I have every confidence he will deal with it appropriately.”
At recent meetings, Bell has questioned council decisions on pay parking at Ridge Meadows Hospital, development outside the urban boundary, and a bylaw extending authority to borrow $6 million to build Fire Hall No. 4 on 112th Avenue in Albion.
Council OK’d the bylaw, which allows borrowing the $6 million for the hall, if of when council decides to build it. The hall has been in the budget and fire master plan for several years.
Bells says if had she known the 2013 budget included the fire hall, she wouldn’t have supported the budget earlier this year.
She did so on the assumption that items could be discussed later. When she wanted to discuss the items, such as fire hall spending, she was told it’s too late.
Council can change any item in the budget at anytime, however.
To get her thoughts on record, Bell asked at the June 17 committee meeting if she could file a written statement saying she opposed the budget and that she was getting inconsistent information.
She says not enough time is spent discussing the budget, which is a five-year plan that’s adjusted and approved yearly.
“I think we should be spending days discussing this.”
Even though past councils OK’d the fire hall, it still deserves a fresh look, pointing out she didn’t get any background.
The borrowing bylaw was presented to council at the June 10 committee of whole meeting and comprised only two pages, stating the fire hall project has been in the financial plan since 2008. It points out the project has been delayed previously and that fire department budget limits were one of the reasons for the delay.
Bell first looked at the borrowing bylaw that day, then was expected to approve it the next.
She scrambled to get up to date on the background on the fire hall.
“There’s no room for process. We should have been fully informed as to why this borrowing bylaw should be renewed.”
But as a new councillor, “There’s nothing.”
Coun. Cheryl Ashlie said at the June 11 regular meeting she too came to council after the fire hall had been included in finance plans, but she got up to speed on the project.
Bell admits, she’s still learning as a councillor and that’s why she asks a lot of questions. But that’s her job, she points out. “That’s what I’m here to do.
She also says she’s been told she asks too many questions and that she should just sit and listen and earn her stripes as a rookie councillor.
“That is something has been made clear to me almost from the beginning,” Bell said.
“I don’t understand why they are taking it so personally. It’s nothing to do with anybody, it’s a professional environment.”