Water councillor Rick Machial remembers what it felt like being bullied as a kid.
“I didn’t like being bullied in elementary school, and I don’t like being bullied now,” he said to a hushed council meeting Monday night.
Machial referred to the previous council’s decision to exclude water councillors from the table following a legal opinion that was never made public.
Last year council decided that water councillors were no longer permitted to sit at the table after water matters were dealt with; they either have to go home or sit in the public gallery.
Machial fought this decision tooth and nail and vowed to bring the issue back for discussion. And that he did Monday night, with a motion that council reverse its decision.
“If you guys want us to be part of this team, I think we have to sit as a council. It’s an uncomfortable feeling; it’s almost like being bullied, to be quite honest with you.”
Machial said water councillors sat on council for 28 years without any challenges from the public.
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He noted he had conversations with water councillors in Osoyoos and there is no concern on that council. In fact, water councillors are encouraged and invited to stick around, Machial said.
“That’s the kind of attitude we should have; we’re adults, not children.”
Machial stated there is no harm in allowing water councillors to remain at the table.
“Continuing the way we’re going is not going to be conducive to having cooperation.
We have some big decisions to make as a council . . . we need to be a part of that.”
Machial went as far to say that water councillors should have been involved in the vote or appointment of the interim chief financial officer.
But Chief Administrative Officer Cathy Cowan said that was strictly an appointment and not a water matter.
Machial said he and former water councillor Andre Miller were like a “tag team,” who knew their roles and never voted on non-water matters.
Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger said council has had a couple of discussions on the issue but left those conversations unfinished.
“I would like to finish those discussions. I wouldn’t vote to go forward at this time but you can be sure that we’re going to finish those discussions and have a full vote similar to what you’re asking for.”
Councillor Dave Mattes agreed, saying he wasn’t prepared to support or deny Machial’s motion.
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But Machial argued that water councillors should be at the table for those discussions.
“I don’t understand how you could be having discussions about this and not have us at the table to give our opinions on it. I can’t fathom that. We’re the water councillors. We’re elected. We’re not just sitting here hunky-dory.”
Mayor Martin Johansen said the original decision was made by the previous council.
“We’re wrapping our head around it. Do we want to continue what was decided by the previous council or do we want to modify that?”
Johansen said he didn’t think these discussions need to have the water councillors present. He did say that council could ultimately decide to ask the water councillors to return to the table.
Machial asked point blank why these discussions are in camera and not in public. There was a long pause with no answer. Then finally: “I don’t have an answer for you,” the mayor said.
Machial was subsequently told it was a legal opinion.
Councillor Petra Veintimilla said she wouldn’t support the motion because there are more conversations to have. But she did empathize with Machial, saying it was uncomfortable and that there is a better way to do things.
Schwartzenberger made a motion to postpone the matter for up to four weeks to give council time to discuss it. That was approved.
The Oliver Chronicle recently made a Freedom of Information request regarding the closed meeting on the role of water councillors, but it didn’t reveal much.
Town corporate officer Diane Vaykovich sent the Chronicle redacted (blacked out) minutes of the February 26 meeting to discuss the responsibilities of water councillors.
Machial and Miller were not invited to the meeting, therefore, had no input on what was discussed.
At the time, Machial argued that they should have been present, and Miller raised a concern about not seeing any minutes.
Town council decided to seek legal counsel and subsequently approved a resolution to not allow water councillors to participate in any discussions other than water matters.
In the closed meeting, “it was moved and seconded” that (redacted). This was carried, but the identities of who moved the motion and who seconded it was not revealed.
“It was moved and seconded that staff be directed to seek a legal opinion regarding participation of water councillors at meetings.”