One Maple Ridge councillor accuses another of bullying
It comes after months of contentious exchanges between councillors and members of the public
The most recent political conflict in the City of Maple Ridge involves two councillors disagreeing over what constitutes bullying.
Two-term Coun. Corisa Bell said she's now going to speak out when she feels bullied by members of council, after what she termed as regular threats from other councillors meant to silence her.
"The cycle of bullying that takes in politics I've seen in the six years I've been involved is unacceptable," she said, following a Facebook post she shared outlining her concerns.
"I shouldn't feel like I can't speak up against things, or I'm going to be bullied for them ... an elected person should feel the freedom to have the voice they had to get elected to be the voice that's heard at the table."
Bell received the most votes of any Maple Ridge councillor in the 2014 municipal elections, and made similar claims of being censored by fellow councillors in 2013, according to the Maple Ridge News.
Turmoil at city hall
Bell's comments came after a particularly contentious council meeting two weeks ago, when members of the public spoke about their dissatisfaction with the homelessness situation in their municipality.
While a majority of councillors have been in favour of finding permanent housing for residents living in tent cities close to commercial buildings, to date they have not succeeded.
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Bell was on sick leave for several months, which she says was connected to bullying, and Mayor Nicole Read took a leave of absence after threats to her personal safety.
Coun. Craig Speirs says the issue is so heated it's caused increased tension on council overall.
"It's overheated around an issue, and it's overheated around relationships," he said.
"These issues are complicated and they deserve our full attention. If we break apart and let old issues grind at us too much, then it affects how we approach the future ones."
Bell has specifically accused Speirs of bullying, following his accusations — caught on microphone during a break in council — that her actions were partly responsible for the lack of progress on the homeless file.
"My frustration bubbled up the other night," admitted Speirs, who denied his criticisms amounted to bullying.
"I don't care on the issues, we can agree, disagree, vote, and move on. But she's had trouble moving on," he said.
"You can't claim to be a victim over and over again when you're not. It creates a dynamic that's hard to fight against."
Rally before council
Tuesday brings the first public council meeting since Bell's comments, and one resident is planning a public rally at the meeting to stand up against bullying.
"I know my city is so much better than how it's being represented right now, and I just want everyone who is like-minded and wants to have forward-thinking, positive thinkers to show up," said Cheryl Zandbergen, who hopes people wearing pink shirts will pack council chambers.
"It stems so far beyond one person or altercation. It's surrounding city hall in general."
Bell also hopes for change — but believes it will only come if the provincial government provides more oversight in disputes like these.
"Just saying that, you know, anything is acceptable for your period of time [on council] isn't good enough," she said.
"We can work with together, and with the province, so we can put these safety measures in place."