Mission councillor Ken Herar says he feels humiliated by comments made by fellow councillor Cal Crawford and believes a public apology is in order from both Crawford and Mayor Pam Alexis.
And he said he’s not returning to council chambers until that happens.
The dispute began last Monday evening as council debated the 2020 annual tax rates bylaw. Herar, reading from a prepared statement, told council he felt the pre-approved municipal tax increase of 4.39 per cent should be lowered in light of the recent economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. He even volunteered to take a pay cut of five per cent.
The rest of council did not support altering the increase – which was set, debated and voted on in December 2019 – and Crawford stated that he was surprised by Herar’s “grandstanding.”
When Herar asked Alexis to have Crawford clarify his comment, the mayor suggested that the two men “have a conversation offline.”
A few days after the meeting, Herar is still unhappy.
“I’m disappointed by those comments by Coun. Crawford. It was a cheap comment to make. My heartfelt intentions were to express the views of our citizens. By deflecting it, we don’t get to really tackle the issues we needed to.”
Herar believes there was an opportunity to bring some amendments to the budget to provide relief to citizens.
“When you make a comment like that, you insult the people who may not be able to afford this budget at this time, with job losses, limited work or no work. I think he (Crawford) owes the community an apology.”
Herar said he doesn’t care about an apology for himself, but feels that Crawford’s comments were an insult to those struggling financially. He also said Alexis should apologize.
“I felt Mayor Alexis should have dealt with it then and there at the meeting … I asked for a clarification point because he (Crawford) was out of order.
“I tried to do something positive and you get slapped in your face.”
Herar is glad he spoke up at council, saying the fact that council took no action to try to lessen the tax burden, or to provide any relief due to the COVID-19 situation, looks bad on council.
“I only ask that my fellow councillors take the time to reconsider all the financial hardships our taxpayers are experiencing right now and listen to the economic forecasts being made by the experts. Canada’s economy is not going to miraculously rebuild itself overnight. We are in for tough times in the future and our budget must be adjusted to meet that challenge … I’m not the finance guy, but we didn’t even make an attempt.”
As for the “grandstanding” comment, Herar said councillors should all be free to discuss issues openly, without any kind of intimidation.
This is not the first time Herar has felt like his opinion was being belittled and he said there appears to be a double standard around the council table.
He pointed to a recent debate about a downtown pawn shop owner wanting to move his business next door to a building he had purchased. Such a move was not permitted under the current bylaw, and council denied the store owner’s request.
Herar spoke in favour of the move.
“The mayor calls me to give her point of view that she thought I was out of line. And my comments weren’t. There was nothing in there that I said that attacked anybody on council or anything, I just expressed my views,” he said.
In Herar’s opinion, Crawford’s comments were out of line, but nothing happened.
“There’s definitely a double standard happening in my opinion. Nothing was said in the public forum to correct it then and there, but I’ve spoken, too, about the pawn shop.”
Herar also said he will continue to speak up on issues.
“I will not be intimidated or silenced on issues of importance to our community.”
When contacted by the Mission Record, Coun. Cal Crawford declined to comment on the matter publicly.
Alexis shared that sentiment, saying she didn’t think this belongs in the public forum.
“This is the kind of thing that belongs amongst council. This is not the first time a councillor has been called out for grandstanding … This is the kind of thing that, as a council, we need to work through and I’m surprised that Ken has taken it to the next level,” Alexis said.
As for Herar’s request to change the tax increase, Alexis said it was “too late for this kind of debate about the tax rate or the tax increase.”
She said the provincial deadline is May 14 and there was no time to backtrack and present at another council meeting without missing all the deadlines. She said this kind of debate should have happened a minimum of a month ago.
“It wasn’t a possibility when it was brought up. So of course council is going to look to 2021 for those savings and where we can make changes and all of that. No question. But we’re in May already of a 2020 budget. We’re five months in.
“It was literally impossible to make the change that night.”
She also noted that, at the end of the meeting, when council voted on the tax bylaw, Herar didn’t vote against it.
“In hindsight, it’s not about what council says; it’s about how council votes.”
Herar said he only voted in favour of the bylaw because it included a three month extention for residents to pay their municipal taxes. Under the bylaw, taxes, which are normally due by July 2, can be paid, without penalty, on Sept. 30.