Nanaimo council meeting adjourned over decorum dispute

NANAIMO – Meeting to award Colliery dam spillway contract adjourns over protest signs in gallery.

A city council meeting to award a work contract for the Colliery dam spillway project broke up over protest signs in the gallery Monday.

Protest signs in the gallery have been a bone of contention at previous council meetings, but about 25 people, some bearing signs protesting work in Colliery Dam Park, attended the meeting, which started at 6 p.m.

Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay opened proceedings by stating signs must be kept from view and if the audience failed to do so, or disrupted the meeting, he would adjourn and reconvene after having the gallery cleared.

“The intended purpose of the gallery is for citizens to witness the business of council,” McKay said. “It is not a place of protest.”

Coun. Gordon Fuller challenged McKay, arguing the audience should be allowed to remain if they did not obstruct the proceedings.

McKay adjourned the meeting several minutes later when protestors shouted at and jeered McKay and refused to lower protest signs.

Police, on standby at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre before the meeting started, assisted in clearing the gallery, but councillors Fuller, Bill Bestwick, Jim Kipp and Jerry Hong had already left the building and did not return, leaving council short of quorum to reconvene and award the contract. McKay and councillors Ian Thorpe, Diane Brennan and Wendy Pratt stayed in hopes the meeting could reconvene. Coun. Bill Yoachim did not attend.

“I felt the mayor had abused the process and disregarded sections of the community charter in favour of sections he believed were right without any debate and I did not feel it was appropriate to return to the meeting, especially in the event that people were removed by the RCMP,” Fuller said.

Toby Seward, city director of social and protective services, said Monday’s action puts the city past a deadline to have a contract to construct an auxiliary spillway at the park awarded by Sept. 1. The province could revoke Nanaimo’s water license and force compliance with its remediation order.

A new public meeting to award a contract is scheduled for Wednesday (Sept. 2).

Fuller said the short notice given for Wednesday’s meeting might mean not all councillors would be able to attend.

“The reality is council is not my only job, but I will do my best to make the meeting tomorrow so that we can make this decision and move forward with life,” Fuller said.

“We did check their schedules so they don’t have conflicts, so we’re hoping that’s going to work,” Seward said.

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