North Cowichan Councillor Kate Marsh won’t be reimbursed the pay that has been deducted from her salary after breaching the municipality’s standards of conduct policy.
Council decided in a 3-2 vote at their meeting on Aug. 18 to keep the financial penalty, which is a reduction of 10 per cent pay for 12 months totalling approximately $3,000, in place.
After a third-party investigation, Marsh had to apologize to council in June for breaching the municipality’s standards of conduct policy after Mayor Al Siebring made a complaint against her in relation to a meeting last fall when she sent an email to council members to which he took exception.
Other allegations against Marsh by Siebring were also part of the investigation, but they couldn’t be substantiated.
Although it was not recommended in the investigator’s report, North Cowichan’s standard of conduct policy states that any council member who has been found by a third-party investigator to have breached the standards will face the financial penalties.
Coun. Christopher Justice put forward the motion for Marsh to be reimbursed the money that has been deducted from her salary.
“This sanction was designed with much more serious offences in mind, such as bullying a municipal employee or revealing confidential information,” he said.
“Councillor Marsh was found to have committed a very trivial offence of a single instance of using intemperate language in a private email sent only to five other members of council. Applying to such an indiscretion the same fine designed to discourage much more serious breeches is akin to sending someone to jail for jaywalking.”
But Coun. Rosalie Sawrie said all members of council voted in favour of the remuneration bylaw earlier in its term, and all understood the financial implications for breaches of the standards of conduct.
She said she agrees that there have been times when council has disagreed with its own bylaws or policies and made exceptions.
“But I would argue that this is the only bylaw where we shouldn’t make any exceptions,” Sawrie said.
“The remuneration bylaw is the only thing that holds us accountable for our actions in how we conduct ourselves and takes personal relationships out of the equation.”
Sawrie said that when the bylaw was approved, council discussed the rule that the funds held back from council members’ remuneration when a breach of the conduct policy has been determined would be put towards the expense of hiring a third-party investigator.
“I’d like to remind everyone that the only reason this went so far as to hire a third-party investigator was that both parties agreed to it,” she said.
Coun. Rob Douglas said he’s not an investigator, but to put the issue into perspective, it’s about a poorly worded email which he considers to be a trivial matter.
“When I’m looking at it through a common-sense lens, I really don’t think the penalty matches the crime,” he said.
Coun. Debra Toporowski said the remuneration bylaw was developed based on other bylaws of many councils across B.C.
“We all voted on that remuneration bylaw,” she said.
“We did debate some of the things in it, but we did pass it.”
Siebring declined to comment.
Justice’s motion failed with Sawrie, Toporowski and Siebring voting against it.