North Cowichan councillor questions ‘time, effort, resources’ spent on Kate Marsh report
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring’s complaint against Councillor Kate Marsh should have been resolved informally long ago and not reached the stage of a full-blown legal investigation, Councillor Rob Douglas told council on Wednesday.
“I think most would agree that the offence here is a relatively trivial matter,” Douglas said. “It’s one email sent out after a long meeting…that some found offensive. I’ve just got to question if something of that nature really justifies all the time and effort and resources that went into this long, drawn-out investigation.”
Victoria lawyer Sharon Cartmill-Lane conducted an independent investigation into Siebring’s complaint under council’s Standards of Conduct policy. She concluded that an email Marsh sent to other members of council after a Sept. 7, 2021, committee-of-the-whole meeting was disrespectful, inflammatory and untrue.
(See details at https://bit.ly/3PZ1l8o).
Cartmill-Lane also recommended Marsh write a letter of apology to Siebring and that she attend a coaching session on respectful communication — findings that council endorsed.
In a 22-page report, Cartmill-Lane also acknowledged that bad blood exists between Siebring and Marsh and recommended the two seek some sort of mediation.
She said “council is a small group of individuals with important obligations to their community and tension between two individuals has potential to be distracting from that important work and bound to impact the environment for the entire group.
“As such, I suggest the Parties attend a facilitated conversation by a mutually agreeable third party to address how they will continue to work together going forward….”
The cost to taxpayers of her investigation has not been revealed.
Marsh’s lawyer, Jennifer Millbank, told council Wednesday that it is inappropriate for the debate on the investigation to take place in public. She added that Marsh regrets her actions, has apologized and has attended three sessions on “non-violent communication.”
Millbank said: “This isn’t necessary. It never was necessary. I, for one, am completely baffled that it’s ended up in this type of forum.”
Millbank said the email was sent after a lengthy, late-night council meeting. “I don’t know about you, but my brain, my analytical brain turns off at approximately 9:30 and my judgement becomes compromised as the hours move on and I expect that that likely had some influence on the email that she sent and the way that it was worded.”
Councillor Rosalie Sawrie represented council during the investigation. She says she supports the investigation report, but would also support a review of the Standards of Conduct policy, noting improvements can be made.
Douglas agreed, saying the current policy does not distinguish between lesser and more serious violations. He described Marsh as a “hard working and a highly valued member of council, yet with this deeply flawed Standards of Conduct policy she is being penalized and publicly embarrassed…."
There are financial penalties for violations of the policy: https://bit.ly/3GJAGs6.
The Marsh debate involved just four of seven councillors. Only Douglas did not support Cartmill-Lane’s recommendations.
Marsh recused herself. Siebring, who is not seeking re-election, is out of town at a conference, but also would have recused himself. Christopher Justice was absent.
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— Larry Pynn, June 2, 2022