A Merritt city councillor intends to notify the Ministry of Municipal Affairs of concerns she has over the handling of a motion on employee morale she’s brought forward at a council meeting held Jan. 9.
Coun. Linda Brown said she believes she was denied the right to speak to her motion first as per council’s procedure bylaw during last week’s regular council meeting.
“I’ve gone through our procedure bylaw — bylaw number 2055 — and no disrespect to any member of council, but I am not aware of any provision that states the person that brings a motion is entitled to speak first to it,” City of Merritt corporate officer Sean Smith told the Herald.
At the meeting, council was set to discuss whether or not it would undertake a survey measuring staff morale in the wake of high management turnover in recent years.
Brown told the Herald she’s heard from staff members who say they are concerned with their job security at the City of Merritt, prompting her to pursue this survey.
When the notice of motion came forward, Coun. Diana Norgaard spoke first, making a point of order to defer the matter to an in-camera meeting, and the subsequent vote took it off the table for public discussion.
“This is a matter that has to do with staffing and we should be discussing [it] in a closed meeting, not an open, public meeting,” Norgaard said at Tuesday’s meeting.
The motion to defer was not debatable, and went directly to a vote, which returned a 6-1 result with only Brown opposed.
Decision to delay motion not required by community charter
According to Smith, the topic did not have to go to a closed meeting, but Norgaard was well within her right to take it there.
Section 90 (1) of the community charter details when a meeting may be closed to the public, including when dealing with personal information about individual who holds or is being considered for a position with the city, as well as meetings involving labour relations and other employee relations.
“Within section 90 of the community charter council may discuss certain subjects in a closed meeting of council, so it wasn’t a requirement that the meeting be closed,” said Smith. “It would certainly be council’s prerogative to do so in this situation, but council didn’t have to close the meeting in order to discuss that. It could have been discussed in an open forum.”
Brown contends her motion doesn’t deal with any of the stipulations in that section of the charter, and shouldn’t be held in a closed meeting.
“I will be asking the minister if there’s something I can do about it, especially with the motion being a closed item. I don’t think it’s right,” Brown told the Herald.
Smith said he believes the motion did touch on employee relations.
Coun. Diana Norgaard told the Herald she felt that if council is going to seriously consider undertaking the survey, questions will need to be asked that will name specific employees, which she said wouldn’t be appropriate for a public meeting.
“Councillor Brown has suggested that she has information from staff members that the rest of council doesn’t have and she would be required to give us that information and that would have to go to a closed meeting,” Norgaard said.
Norgaard also said she disagrees with some of the descriptive terms used in the motion itself and believes that when challenged by her fellow council members, Coun. Brown may be embarrassed.
“Again, not appropriate in an open meeting,” said Norgaard.
For example, Norgaard disagrees with the claim in the motion that an extraordinary number of managers have parted ways with the city, saying it’s typical to expect 20 to 30 per cent in management turnover annually in local government a statistic she said she received from CivicInfo BC.
Norgaard said she is against Brown’s motion believing it’s wording draws a foregone conclusion that there is low staff morale at city hall, which she disagrees with.
She said she is hesitant to spend $30,000 on a staff satisfaction survey that may not be warranted and believes council members could find out that information for themselves.
Council is expected to address whether or not it will undertake the survey at a closed meeting next Tuesday (Jan. 23).
The city has parted ways with eight managers, including three recreation directors, since former public works manger Shawn Boven was promoted to the role of chief administrative officer in mid-2015.
“I think council has a responsibility to staff to find out how they’re being affected over this hiring [and] firing cycle,” said Brown, adding that this survey is intended to determine if the concerns she’s heard are valid.
“If council is confident that staff is thriving under the current culture then we should welcome this opportunity to validate our beliefs,” said Brown. “If not, let’s make the change.”
Brown’s motion calls for confidentiality to be provided to all staff members who take the survey, and that the survey itself be conducted by an outside firm for less than $30,000.
“The report, I understand, could be brought back in-camera — that I believe should be in-camera, but not the idea of talking about it,” said Brown. “The public should be outraged by that in my mind.”