Pitt Meadows’ resolution to remove council members convicted of crimes was lost in a tie vote at a conference of Lower Mainland municipalities on Thursday.
As it stands, local politicians such as former Pitt Meadows councillor David Murray, who has been convicted of sexual assault, can stay on council as long as they are able to attend some meetings. There is no legal mechanism to remove them from office, and the city wants to lobby Victoria for legislative changes.
The resolution was lost at the Lower Mainland Local Government Association conference, being held in Whistler from May 9-11, in a 30-30 tie.
Mayor John Becker said he intends to press the matter at the Union of BC Municipalities, with a new, clearer motion, in September.
Becker noted all councillors from a municipality may vote at the LMLGA conference, but only he and Janis Elkerton attended from Pitt Meadows.
“If I had been able to stuff another councillor in my suitcase, we would have won the day,” he said.
Being passed by LMLGA would have automatically put the issue on the agenda at the UBCM 2018 convention, being held Sept. 10-14 in Whistler. Now, Pitt Meadows will have to ask the UBCM to include the issue.
Becker said he had only three minutes to present the motion, and it was not enough time to properly address the issue. He said the group of city councillors who spoke to the motion expressed concerns that were sometimes off the mark – such as a minor conviction resulting in a person not being able to run for council.
“This was a great dress rehearsal,” said Becker from the LMLGA conference on Friday morning.
His plan is to have city hall re-draft the resolution so that there is more detail embedded in it, to clarify its intent.
Becker and Elkerton lobbied for the motion at LMLGA, “worked the crowd,” and the politicians he spoke with were generally supportive.
“The comments were all positive in terms of addressing the issue,” he said.
Becker noted that under the present laws, a convicted councillor will be removed from office only after they have been in jail for long enough that they have missed too many meetings.
“That’s what we have now, which is completely unnacceptable,” he said.
One concern he heard was a city councillor who participated in an act of civil disobedience, such as protesting the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, could be charged with criminal contempt and be removed from municipal office. Becker, a practising lawyer, said in his opinion a person who disobeys a direct order of the courts should face that sanction, but these issues need to be worked out.
“This is a great conversation – we need to have the conversation,” he said.
Murray was convicted in October of 2017 of sexually assaulting a 13- or 14-year-old girl in 1992. Throughout his trial, he remained on council, did not immediately resign upon conviction, and agreed to resign his seat after a private meeting with Becker five days later.
The proposed resolutions would require an elected local government official to be put on paid leave immediately upon conviction of a serious criminal offence – which offences are to be defined by legislation.
A second part of the resolution will also require that an elected local government official be disqualified from holding office upon conviction of a serious criminal offence, after the expiration of the time to file an appeal or determination of an appeal.
Both resolutions were lost with 30-30 tie votes.
Murray was sentenced to nine months in jail. He is appealing both his conviction and his sentence, has been granted his release, and the courts have given him until Oct. 16 to file his statement of facts, which will be the next step in his legal battle.
The LMLGA is one of the five area associations of the UBCM, and it includes 33 municipal governments from Pemberton to Hope, as well as three regional districts.