BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A difficult situation

Columnist provides some thoughts on municipal governance and the impact on residents

It wasn’t intentional but the Township of Spallumcheen has provided a lesson on governance.

The suspension of chief administrative officer Lynda Shykora shocked many local  municipal officials because they didn’t realize that one person — the mayor — has the authority to place an employee’s career on hold.

I am more than abundantly familiar with civil servants being fired, but suspension was a new one on me. So unclear about the situation, I actually consulted the Community Charter, the provincial legislation that instructs municipalities how to operate.

Section 51 states, “The mayor must suspend a municipal officer or employee if the mayor considers this necessary.”

What this means is the suspended individual is still considered an employee but they are unable to perform their duties or be at their place of work.

Section 51 also goes on to say that, “A suspension must be reported to the council at its next meeting, and the council may (a) reinstate the officer or employee, (b) confirm the suspension, (c) confirm and extend the suspension, or (d) dismiss the officer or employee.”

The Spallumcheen situation has topped the rumour mill between local politicians, bureaucrats and media types.

For some local mayors, they are clearly uncomfortable with the prospect of taking such an extreme action without being sanctioned by their council colleagues to  proceed first.

There is also a good deal of speculation about the long-term implications of a suspension.

If a council backs a suspension and ultimately fires an employee, taxpayers could be left forking out severance. And if the employee believes they were wrongfully dismissed, there’s the prospect of costly legal action.

But some are also left wondering what happens if council overrules a suspension and an employee is allowed to return to their day-to-day activities. How is the working relationship at the municipal office impacted? Obviously there could be plenty of tension.

Now no one in the public actually knows what’s been going on behind the scenes in Spallumcheen, and it may even be that some councillors aren’t fully aware of details.

Because personnel matters are mandated confidential, Mayor Janice Brown is providing no response to the media.

“I have been told to say, ‘No comment at this time,’” she said.

And that’s fair, but because council is working on behalf of the residents of Spallumcheen, some information — even if it’s just clarifying Shykora’s status with the township — will have to be released to the public eventually.

And ultimately, it’s the residents of any municipality that have the most at stake when back-room issues like this arise.

They either wind up pumping out a lot of their  hard-earned dollars or they are left with a governance structure that is dysfunctional.