The long-delayed Revelstoke by-election process suffered an embarrassing setback on Nov. 18, when a false story was published in the local news media proclaiming the by-election was to be held on Jan. 30. In fact, the election date has not been set. Here’s our update on the delayed by-election.
What’s the background again?
We’ve published stories on delays to the Revelstoke by-election, made necessary by a January 2020 councillor resignation over ethics concerns stemming from a council self-pay-raise plan. In September, we noted that it had been eight months since the resignation with no word from the city on the by-election. Then the city said they’d been granted permission by Elections BC to delay the election. Then, Elections BC directly contradicted that explanation. More explanations were proffered: the city didn’t want to hold it in the summer, they wanted to save money on two elections in case a councillor was elected MLA, and they wanted to be COVID-19 safe (despite 19 other municipalities having got their by-elections together). None of these decisions came at the council table.
Finally, when asked about absences of two senior staff members who are usually responsible for managing elections, the mayor declined to comment.
OK, what happened now?
Don’t believe everything you read in the news, folks.
On November 19, the Revelstoke Review published a detailed story proclaiming the election would be held on January 30, 2021. The story said the nomination period for the Revelstoke City Council by-election opened Dec. 15, and it had details on how candidates could submit application forms, and had all the very specific details needed to apply, such as deadlines.
The problem is Revelstoke City Council hasn’t appointed a chief election officer yet and hasn’t voted on holding a by-election. By law, it’s the chief election officer’s job to run the elections and set the date for the election, a process that is laid out in election laws.
But city staff has moved ahead prior to council voting on the matter and without a chief election officer, even sending an ad to the paper before council has seen the plan.
When asked, Review editor Jocelyn Doll admitted the story had been gleaned from an advertisement that had been forwarded to the newspaper. Mistakes happen, and good on Jocelyn for setting the record straight. She explained she assumed council had appointed a chief elections officer at a recent meeting but hadn’t seen the meeting.
The story has been deleted, and the Review published an apology story.
Oh, and Doll said city staff said the dates in the ad they provided were wrong too.
New Director of Corporate Administration departs from the city
Curtis Slingerland, now former Director of Corporate Administration, is no longer employed by the City of Revelstoke, city staff have confirmed. He was hired in April of this year and last appeared at a city council meeting in late July.
The position oversees much of the governance paperwork part of city operations.
The Mountaineer has requested information on any compensation Slingerland may have received upon departure, and for paperwork that may explain why a new hire is gone so quickly.
Our first request to city staff was responded to by email by the mayor — an irregularity in itself since information requests of staff aren’t meant to be forwarded to elected officials. The mayor said he would not comment.
When we pointed out that requests to staff shouldn’t be forwarded to elected officials, we received another reply, this time saying a response would take longer than a month. There is no guarantee the city will provide the information requested at that point.
In the past, there have been several instances of local media requesting information on compensation paid to departing staff. The city has refused, local media has successfully appealed to the provincial information and privacy commissioner, who told the city to hand over the information they should have provided in the first place. To be clear, there is no indication if there was any compensation.
Additionally, the city’s Manager of Legislative Services went on leave in the summertime, and sources say the long-serving staff member has not yet returned.
Without staff in those two positions key to running elections, it becomes difficult to hold an election.
Sources have told the Mountaineer that there has been disputes between senior staff members at city hall.
Late item verbal update on council agenda with no paperwork
At the October 27 city council meeting, City of Revelstoke CAO Dawn Low updated council on the by-election in a verbal report that was not listed on the meeting agenda and had no accompanying paperwork.
Low said that staff that staff were working out details on how to run the election during the COVID-19 pandemic, and had to change some election bylaws to account for changes such as changes to the number of voting opportunities, or allowing for verbal declarations to prevent physical contact while voting.
Low said they are targeting a January 2021 election now, saying provincial authorities agreed with her plan not to hold the election over the winter holidays. (Previously, the mayor had said the election was delayed earlier this year because the city didn’t want to hold it during the summer holidays.)
Low said the election would cost between $25,000 to $40,000.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the ministry that oversees municipal elections, confirmed that city staff had been in contact regarding amending election bylaws to allow for COVID-19 changes such as, “mail-in ballot voting and using verbal declarations rather than signing the voting book to minimize contact.”
The election process is normally a buttoned-down process, specifically designed to prevent political meddling in elections. It’s usually a non-story, a bit of procedure that passes without comment.
Normally, as prescribed by law, council appoints a chief elections officer as soon as there is a vacancy, then that person handles the process. The B.C. government gave municipalities the green light to resume elections in July.
Instead, the mayor and staff have been offering various reasons for the lack of a by-election for months, but it seems that staff who are on leave or departed is a significant part of the issue, but the city is not commenting on that, instead offering other reasons for the delay.
The delayed by-election has done harm to public perception of city hall competence.
We first wrote about delays communicating the plans for a by-election in February of this year (link: see pages 14 and 15), where we warned that communications problems at the city were going to lead to “diminishing returns from Revelstoke municipal democracy in the years to come.”
It seems likely the by-election will be before council soon, and also likely it won’t happen until over a year after the councillor resignation, the exact reason why is not yet clear.