British Columbia

Port Moody council picks acting mayors in random draw

Councillors Meghan Lahti, Hunter Madsen and Steve Milani were chosen to take on most of the traditional duties of mayor in three-month rotations, as Rob Vagramov takes an indefinite leave of absence to contest a sexual assault charge.

3 councillors to each serve 3-month terms as Rob Vagramov takes leave of absence following sex-assault charge

While Mayor Rob Vagramov (front row, centre) is on leave, the six Port Moody councillors will debate bylaws without him for the foreseeable future. From left: Diana Dilworth, Meghan Lahti, Steve Milani, Vagramov, Hunter Madsen, Zoë Royer and Amy Lubik. (City of Port Moody)

A special meeting of Port Moody council ended on Tuesday night with names being picked out of a container to determine who would be the city's acting mayors for the next nine months. 

Councillors Meghan Lahti, Hunter Madsen and Steve Milani were chosen to take on most of the traditional duties of mayor in three-month rotations, as Rob Vagramov takes an indefinite leave of absence to contest a sexual assault charge.

"Names in a hat is the most equal. It's the most random way. It is the most non-partisan way," said Lahti, who was chairing the meeting, following 90 minutes of discussion where councillors failed to agree on a different way of selecting acting mayors.

While Port Moody already had an acting mayor schedule in place for 2019 — in which different councillors would assume the role in the mayor's absence — the position was to be rotated every one to two months.

Following the charge against Vagramov, staff requested longer rotations given the mayor could be on leave for some time. 

"These kinds of things are difficult, and consensus is always difficult to get to, especially if there are pretty high emotions involved," said Lahti at the conclusion of the meeting.

"But we're going to get through this, we're going to be OK."

Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov speaks during a news conference after being charged with sexual assault on March 28. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Split on council

Those "high emotions" were due in part to the political split between councillors. 

In last year's municipal election, Vagramov defeated incumbent mayor Mike Clay on a platform centred on slowing down Port Moody's growth, arguing as recently as last month that the "election was a fundamental change in values."

Three people elected to council (Madsen, Milani and Amy Lubik) generally supported Vagramov's campaign, said Tri-City News editor Richard Dal Monte.

The other three councillors elected — Lahti, Diana Dilworth and Zoë Royer  all with significantly more elected experience — generally didn't. 

"Math is hard in politics, and it's especially going to be hard in Port Moody, because you no longer have an odd number of votes on any given motion," said Dal Monte.

"If you went strictly by what people think are the slate and the established group, then you'd see a lot of 3-3 votes." 

Port Moody is expected to face a number of significant votes in the next year, including whether to remove the potential of a future road going through Bert Flinn Park, and a large development proposed for the site of a waterfront mill. 

What does an acting mayor do?

There hasn't been an acting mayor in charge of a municipality for any significant length of time since 2007, when multiple Port Coquitlam councillors filled in after mayor Scott Young was charged and eventually convicted for assault

But whoever is acting mayor will have only so much responsibility — B.C. municipalities operate on what is commonly called a "weak mayor" system, where powers are generally given to council as a whole instead of its head. 

Raymond Louie, who served as Vancouver's acting mayor from 2015 to 2018, filling in for the head role whenever Gregor Robertson was unavailable, said the job was fairly specific. 

"My role was to chair council meetings in the absence of the mayor, and signing authority in case there was any sort of emergency," said Louie. He added that in Vancouver's system, a deputy mayor was also tasked with attending events in the mayor's absence.  

Port Moody staff will be reporting back to council with the full list of responsibilities each acting mayor will have, along with recommendations for additional compensation, in the coming weeks. 

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