Kumar v. Charlton: City engages in internal bickering
City administrator Victor Kumar will not be getting fired this week, but it’s not for lack of trying on the part of long-time city councillor Laurie Charlton.
A motion to terminate Kumar’s employment contract, tabled by Charlton, died immediately for lack of a seconder at Monday night’s council meeting, marking a new low-water mark in terms of political morale and maturity in the fine municipality of Rossland, BC.
The motion followed another tabled by councillor Jill Spearn, currently serving her second term with Charlton, and clearly exasperated by the ongoing acrimony between her colleague and city staff. Specifically, Spearn takes issue with the amount of time and energy city staff expend meeting Charlton’s many requests for information. Or otherwise.
Unsatisfied with staff responses to his requests for information, it appears Charlton has taken to formally applying for release of city information through the provincial Freedom of Information (FOI) process, a practice that – perhaps ironically – Charlton was far from eager to see shared with the press and public, citing a provision under the Community Charter that states subject matter relating to a FOI request must be considered in closed council meetings.
No information regarding the subject matter of Charlton’s requests was provided at the open meeting Monday, where conversation centred around Spearn’s concerns on request volume and the resulting staff time and photocopying expenses incurred by the City.
“It’s excessive,” said Spearn, noting that she frequently comes into city hall to find the city clerk photocopying FOI’d items to meet Councillor Charlton’s “petty personal requests,” and requesting a reasonable estimate from staff as to how much time is spent responding to FOI requests from Charlton.
“It has been excessive. That is the key word – excessive.”
It was a sentiment echoed by councillor Kathy Wallace, who seconded Spearn’s motion – a necessary step to open a matter for discussion – noting that staff salaries are a significant portion of the city budget. But other councillors disagreed with the premise of Spearn’s motion.
“Some of the things could just be provided,” said councillor Kathy Moore. “Cut to the chase, just give him the reports and be done with it. [There would be] way less acrimony.”
Charlton expressed an interest in expanding the proposed report to include any costs expended by the provincial FOI office, indicating that he intends to continue the practice, due to Kumar’s efforts to “harass and obstruct” his research-gathering, by either ignoring requests or refusing to supply information. Charlton is known for lengthy and in-depth evaluations of city matters, particularly those to do with planning and development.
“Other councillors get information readily,” he said.
The acrimony between Kumar and Charlton is always obvious, but this week’s specific attempt to sever the administrator’s employment stems from material discussed at the intensely unpleasant council meeting of February 14 regarding the Ophir Reservoir Parcel Tax Review Panel, which Charlton, Moore and Mayor Greg Granstom sat on in 2010.
Kumar’s Feb 9, 2011 memo regarding appointment of a new panel for 2011 states that two members of last year’s panel (Moore and Charlton) were “in contravention of procedure” and “confusing the issue,” an assessment that, Charlton believes, constitutes libel.