The mayor and some Maple Ridge councillors tried to answer claims Tuesday that they are trying to stifle the dissenting voice of Coun. Corisa Bell.
They offered some pointed remarks and criticisms of the first-term councillor.
She characterized their speeches as an ambush.
Reading from a prepared statement during his mayor’s report at the end of Tuesday’s council meeting, Ernie Daykin said he wanted to offer a rare retort to criticism in local newspapers and social media.
“I need to clarify some points and set the record straight,” said Daykin.
He started to talk about the meeting of June 17, which dealt with financial statements for 2012.
Bell interrupted him, saying she believed this matter was only to be discussed in private meetings.
“Isn’t this a closed item? I thought we weren’t allowed to talk about it in public,” said Bell.
Daykin responded that it wasn’t.
Bell said further she was asked to leave a Monday meeting, because council would be discussing the video of that meeting. The video was removed from the district’s website, edited, and later re-posted to the site. The explanation from city hall was that the video contained statements by Bell which, lawyers advised, could be considered defamatory.
Much of the resulting public commentary surrounding the edited video content has been conjecture that Bell asked tough questions about the 2012 budget, that senior staff did not want the public to see.
Daykin told Bell that matter has already been dealt with publicly, and he wanted to clear up some misconceptions.
“It [the video] was not removed because questions were being asked of staff or council,” said Daykin. “And I believe that there’s a very strong expectation around the council and staff table alike that there will be questions, and there are times when tough questions are asked of staff and of council, and this is a given in our world.”
Daykin said he has a strong desire that both of the new councillors, Bell and Coun. Bob Masse, be successful in their new roles.
“We are only going to achieve great things for Maple Ridge if we collaborate,” said Daykin. “Our council really tries to encourage respectful debate and discussion.”
He said it is, therefore, concerning to him when the public thinks a member of council is being stifled.
Daykin said the tone of council criticism “diminishes the reputation of our community.”
Coun. Cheryl Ashlie said she has been asked by members of the public “what exactly is going on at council.”
Again, Bell tried to call a point of order to stop her comments, but Ashlie said she wanted to offer her perspective, and continued.
Ashlie said Bell’s comments and questions about whether the district should be building a new fire hall were nothing out of the ordinary.
“Tougher questions have been posed by all of us,” she said.
Ashlie offered several examples of issues where individual councillors held positions that dissented from the rest of council.
“We have all asked tough questions about the budget,” added Ashlie.
She appeared to address Bell directly when she said, “The capacity to operate in this type of arena successfully requires intelligence and skill, but most importantly you must have respect for the opinions of others and the conclusions of the majority, and be able to move on.”
She added: “We could all get our favourite colour league to show up, but we simply do not operate in that fashion.”
That was a reference to a number of Bell supporters attending at the July 9 meeting wearing purple, which was a colour she used in her election campaign.
Coun. Judy Dueck said print and social media articles critical of council have been based on interpretation, not facts.
“I take exception to comments such as the council environment is toxic,” she said. “That is one person’s opinion that is not shared by all.”
She said questions at the council table are not stifled, and staff will spend time with councillors to ensure they understand issues.
“There isn’t anyone around this table that wants to isolate people,” she said.
She too referred to Bell’s purple-clad supporters.
“We can all pack these chambers and have individuals write letters of support,” said Dueck. “In my opinion, this will only serve to distract us from our work.”
Coun. Masse had little to say about the issue.
“I feel bad that I don’t feel so bad. I’m actually pretty happy lately,” he said, creating laughter in the audience. “I didn’t know how miserable I was supposed to feel.”
“I think we’re going to do good work going forward,” said Masse, and urged his colleagues to not be affected by “BS media stuff.”
Bell did feel isolated.
“I wasn’t aware of the ambush,” she said, “so I am unprepared and unable to respond to many of the inaccuracies that were referred to tonight.
“I find what happened tonight extremely disrespectful,” she continued. “Especially when we just spoke about how we don’t like to do things out of the normal, because we like to follow procedure and policy.”
Bell said that even after “all the dirty looks,” she still does not know what she said that could be potentially defamatory.
“It’s never been clarified.”
She wished everyone a great summer.
Coun. Michael Morden addressed Bell, and was about to tell her where she was wrong, but the mayor would not let him address her directly in that manner.
Morden cut his comments short.
“I really wish we could get back to the business of looking after the taxpayers, and get away from all the antics,” said Morden.
Council watcher Eric Phillips watched the surprising events unfold.
“They bushwhacked her. That was her response,” Phillips said.
“She [Bell] walked out just ahead of us, and she was in tears.”
Council will now be on a summer break and is not scheduled to meet again until Aug. 26.