Between a successful motion to look into new bike racks and a call for a byelection, Lantzville’s fourth councillor walked off the job.
With a steady voice, Coun. Graham Savage read the resignation speech he and his wife wrote together over the weekend. He was nervous. It was a big step, but it also felt necessary for the two-term councillor.
He called the last six months of council the worst and most negative experience of his working and volunteer life, where much time was spent dealing with internal conflicts rather than the business of the community and the functions and roles of governance had become confused. He said he hoped it changed for the better, but he wasn’t prepared to take the risk.
Three seats already sat empty around the council table, the name panels gone of three councillors who had quit before him.
With his resignation, he believed, council would no longer have the minimum number of politicians to carry on civic business, the meeting would come to an end and the province would intervene. The mayor was silent as Savage wound up his speech to more than 30 people who had turned out to the council meeting that Monday night.
The councillor rose with a handful of papers and a sweater draped over his arm and walked out of the room. His wife, Brenda, followed him into the hallway where people had already stopped to shake his hand and thank him.
“It’s not with any great pleasure I did what I did,” Savage said. “I am comfortable with it, but I am sad it’s come to this stage.”
Just six months after the civic election, residents are left with a three-person council, the bill for a byelection and more questions than answers.
By the time the B.C. Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development stepped in last week, two senior managers and four councillors had quit amid comments of ridicule and criticism of staff’s work in public, dysfunction and micromanagement.
Mayor Colin Haime, who has pointed out a lack of specifics in resignation letters and asked for residents to listen to everybody involved, and two councillors will continue to govern in the lead-up to the byelection. Community Minister Coralee Oakes has laid out priorities and suggestions for the trio, including that they don’t set any overall strategic or policy direction. A byelection is anticipated this August at a cost of up to $20,000.
Residents are divided. There are questions about what happened, costs and recourse. Some see leadership as an issue and have called for further resignations, while others are upset at the politicians who quit.
At an open meeting last Wednesday, resident James Brash said he’s happy “one-agenda councillors” have given notice and stepped aside so the community can move on. Glenda Barr believes the community should get full value for the byelection by seeing the whole council resign.
Savage can’t pinpoint one reason why council has crumpled. It’s mistrust, lack of respect, a clash of personalities and values – a Chinese puzzle.
“The community and the reporters they are looking for who punched who in the nose and when, and we’ve not had that kind of situation. There’s no major blow-up,” he said. “It’s just been a gradual erosion of trust between council members.”
A day after his resignation, Savage says he’d been unhappy, but when council was left with quorum this month he thought it best to pull out so the province would get involved. He doesn’t think the four of them left at the table could fix the issue.
Savage, a former government consultant, takes some responsibility and so, he believes, should the leader. They are a team and if it fails, they all have to take some ownership of the problem, he said.
The decision to resign was “tough” and involved self-questioning and guilt for the former councillor. He has a passion for community and local government, but council faced issues that culminated in respect and trust and he questioned if he wanted three and a half more years of it. Life’s too short, he said.
“But now, hey, I’m free.”