Communications officer bylaw prompts council debate

One councillor objected to the backwards process of implementing the new position.

A routine bylaw change to allow the new communications officer position to become official generated heated debate at council Monday.

Coun. Jenny Stevens, who opposed the appointment from the outset, said, “There is no way I can support this being put on a temporary contract two months before an election.”

But Coun. Paul Horn said the six-month contract would allow council to evaluate the necessity of the position and the next elected council could decide whether it should be maintained.

“The concern has been raised in the community that this is council’s talking head,” said Horn, before adding that, on the contrary, it allows a communications expert to act as an intermediary between district staff and the public.

Coun. Heather Stewart said the burden of communicating with residents has been unfairly placed on staff who have no formal communications training or expertise. She added other municipalities have communications officers without controversy.

But Stevens said the entire process has been backwards. She said council made the decision in-camera, and then hired somebody for a position that didn’t technically exist since the bylaw hadn’t been amended yet.

She added the short-term nature of the contract made the position look even worse, since it reinforced the public perception the hire is a public relations campaign for re-election.

In question period following the regular agenda, Nelson Tillbury, member of the Citizens for Responsible Municipal Government (CRMG) campaign, asked if council would include the “spin doctor” in their campaign expenses. Mayor James Atebe ruled the question out of order.

The new communications officer was announced as former Maple Ridge mayor Kathy Morse last Monday.