By Michael Potestio, Kamloops This Week.
Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson recused himself from the entire council meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 6) and did not return, citing a conflict of interest, though the precise reason for his absence remains a mystery.
“I recuse myself from this meeting due to potential conflict of interests,” Hamer-Jackson said at the outset of the meeting, before turning the meeting over to Deputy Mayor and Coun. Bill Sarai to act as chair.
Hamer-Jackson did not give a reason as to why he was in conflict for the entire meeting and he had not, as of 5 p.m., returned calls or a text message to KTW.
Coun. Dale Bass told KTW that council as a whole has chosen not to speak publicly on the matter and only offer a statement detailing what happened.
“It’s totally bizarre, so rather than us all speculate on what’s going on, we said let’s just say what happened — he came in, he called the meeting to order, he said I got a conflict and I’m outta here,” Bass said, adding Hamer-Jackson was supposed to declare what the conflict was.
Bass said she went to check in on the mayor partway through the meeting and was told by a staff member he had left the building almost immediately after recusing himself.
“If I could tell you what is going on, you would understand how totally abnormal this day has been,” Bass said.
Coun. Mike O’Reilly was also absent from the meeting as he is in California on a family trip.
There wasn’t much on the agenda for the Dec. 6 meeting. One notable item was a report outlining updates from staff on motions of the previous council pertaining to housing and social issues. The mayor has been vocal about social issues and owns Tru Market, an auto dealership on Victoria Street West amidst a number of social housing agencies, but the report was to receive the report for information and no vote was required.
Other items on the list were a proposed amendment to the city’s tree protection bylaw, number of residential variances and a request for a closed council meeting.
Maria Mazzotta, the city’s corporate officer, was asked how Hamer-Jackson was able to declare a conflict of interest over the entire meeting. She replied to KTW that it “is the million dollar question,” adding it’s not something she has seen before in her five years in the position.
Mazzotta said the mayor informed her just prior to the 1:30 p.m. meeting start time that he wasn’t going to participate due to conflict of interest and that Sarai would fill in, which she advised he should state publicly.
“But beyond that, I don’t have information as to his particular rationale,” Mazzotta said, adding she didn’t have much time to discuss with the mayor why he was declaring the conflict as the regular council meeting came right after a closed meeting. Ordinarily, she said, there is a bit of a break between the two meetings.
“I was literally on my way to my desk to start the meeting and that’s when he informed me,” Mazzotta said.
Asked if there are any legal issues the city is facing that would explain the reason for the mayor’s absence, Mazzotta said if there were, she wouldn’t be able to speak to the media about them. Mazzotta said it’s unlikely an individual would be in conflict of interest on every agenda item.
Hamer-Jackson had been the subject of an exchange of legal letters in early November between himself, in his capacity as mayor, and the ASK Wellness Society, with the lawyer for the society, Scott Huyghebaert, expressing concerns about some of Hamer-Jackson’s comments about the non-profit during the election campaign and to media as being defamatory toward ASK Wellness and its CEO, Bob Hughes.
Hughes told KTW the organization has no intention of seeking legal action against the city.
KTW received a follow-up letter from Hamer-Jackson’s personal lawyer, David McMillan, sent to Huyghebaert on Nov. 28 and informing him that one of the mayor’s planned task forces will deal with having an independent third-party review of shelters like the ones run by ASK Wellness and that the organization “can participate usefully in this process by providing candid and transparent information with respect to its operations and finances.”
A call to the City of Kamloops chief administrative officer, David Trawin, was not immediately returned to KTW.
Arjun Singh, who was defeated by Hamer-Jackson in the Oct. 15 civic election, weighed in on Twitter via series of tweets:
“First time I have ever seen a Kamloops Mayor recuse from an entire council meeting. Usually more specific reasons are outlined. If this declaration of conflict by the Kamloops Mayor concerns the report on work with our most vulnerable citizens, what does this do to his work on the key issue on which he was elected? Frankly declaring a conflict of interest for the whole meeting was the wrong decision. Asking questions without being fairly judged as defamatory was entirely possible. As for a Mayor not being allowed to attend a closed meeting, Kamloops is definitely in uncharted territory.”
Michael Potestio is a reporter for Kamloops This Week.