B.C. councillor steals gavel from deputy mayor as meeting descends into shouting match
Tahsis among several towns in B.C. where newly elected official is at heated odds with majority of council
A council meeting in the small village of Tahsis, on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, devolved into incoherent shouting and one councillor taking the gavel from the deputy mayor on Monday night.
"I don't care what you got! You do not treat us like that!" screamed one resident during a public input session where Deputy Mayor Sarah Fowler repeatedly banged her gavel for 10 seconds at a time to try and restore order.
According to Tahsis' procedure bylaw, there is a two-minute maximum for members of the public to speak during the public input session. But several speakers went over that, and would shout back when Fowler said time was up and banged her gavel.
At one point, one person started screaming that the noise hurt their ears, and Coun. Douglas Elliott went up to Fowler's chair and took the gavel away from her.
"I don't need that, I can do this," said Fowler, banging another item on her desk.
WATCH | B.C. council meeting descends into chaos:
After the public input session ended, various members of the crowd continued to shout at Fowler, saying "make me," when she asked them to leave, or threatened to sue the village.
After the meeting, Fowler tweeted, "This was by far my worst day in local government in the last five years."
scenes from a small town council meeting in british columbia this evening <a href="https://t.co/lhmxMuvk4c">pic.twitter.com/lhmxMuvk4c</a>—@j_mcelroy
What's going on?
The chaotic meeting was the culmination of several months of feuding between Elliott, who was elected for the first time in October's local election with 91 votes, and the rest of council, most of whom were incumbents (including Fowler).
"We feel that there's been abuse of power and discrimination amongst the citizens," said Elliott.
In a series of meetings and mailouts since the election, Elliott accused two councillors of being in a conflict over a new fire hall, a charge he has since withdrawn; accused the chief administrative officer of being "completely out of control" and an "expensive nightmare," and pointed out lawsuits and human rights complaints filed against the village for a sewage dispute.
In an email to CBC News, he said, "The level of facism is unbelievable."
In response, the rest of council voted to censure Eliott, and not pay for any legal fees he might incur as a result of his actions.
Monday's council meeting was the first since the censure became public.
"The town has basically voiced their concerns, unfortunately in a hostile manner, but I think that this council has basically not decided to answer their questions or engage them in conversations," said Elliott.
He added that he sees nothing he could have done differently, and that he took Fowler's gavel because people said "it was violently being used."
did the council meeting go better after that point <br><br>no it did not <a href="https://t.co/viF8UyIAuK">pic.twitter.com/viF8UyIAuK</a>—@j_mcelroy
Fowler saw things differently.
"Tensions are high due to a loud organized minority who feel as though their concerns have been ignored," she wrote.
"I encourage people from outside of Tahsis to understand that we are a very friendly community. Until this most recent term of council, it has been collegial, decorum even in disagreement."
Several dysfunctional councils
Tahsis is the latest B.C. community to find itself with a dysfunctional council quickly after October's elections, sparked by a new politician finding themselves at odds with an established power base.
Lions Bay and Harrison Hot Springs have both asked the province for assistance — something Elliott is hoping will happen in Tahsis — while the new Mayor of Kamloops has found himself feuding with the rest of council on a near weekly-basis.
"It's that polarization and a bit of populism that has led to this," said former Kamloops mayor Terry Lake, who was also a past vice-president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM).
"When you have someone that comes along and takes a strong stand and promises quick solutions to these very complex problems, it does cause a bit of a wedge."
Current UBCM President Jen Ford acknowledged the tensions playing out, but said it didn't seem larger than past years.
"I think that since the beginning of time the interaction of elected officials has always come with passion and conviction and being expected to stand one's ground," she said.
"Maybe we have more insight because we can watch council meetings from our living room … but we need to be more aware of our own conduct and hold others to a standard of good conduct."