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Port Moody council’s ‘Hatfield-and-McCoys’ dynamic needs stronger code of conduct, says councillor

The latest salvo in increasingly rancourous debate at Port Moody council has councillors calling for healing. Some say that can only happen with outside intervention, or a stronger code of conduct.
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Port Moody councillor Hunter Madsen, centre, ended last Tuesday's meeting with several accusations directed towards fellow councillor Zoe Royer.

A Port Moody councillor who accused a fellow councillor of an ethical breech, stereotyping him as a misogynist and damaging his public credibility says he hopes “council can come together soon to agree on new ground rules in how we interact as a body.”

But the target of Coun. Hunter Madsen’s report at the end of last Tuesday’s meeting - Coun. Zoe Royer - says that can only happen if the city’s code of conduct is strengthened.

“I think it’s imperative for good leaders to bring civility to the decision-making table, no matter what anyone says or does,” Royer told the Tri-City News, admitting she’s still processing what transpired at the tail end of last Tuesday’s session, when councillors were given an opportunity to make verbal reports after the business of the evening had been concluded. Often such reports are about issues or organizations close to a councillor’s heart, kudos to an achievement in the community, or reminders about an upcoming event.

Instead, Madsen accounted several - what he called - shots “across the bow” by Royer that include her allegations towards him of “underhanded and inappropriate” tactics during the 2018 election, homophobic slanders towards his sexual orientation and smearing his personal character during discussion about a 55-page report on Port Moody’s future he presented to council April 13. He also accused Royer of trying to sway council to settle a lawsuit between the city and a company working with a development firm owned by her and her husband, former city manager Gaetan Royer.

“Perhaps Coun. Royer thinks that the best defence is a good offence,” Madsen said, after providing, unsolicited, a transcript of his remarks to the Tri-City News.

Royer said she was taken aback by Madsen’s statement. She said that in her 10 years as a councillor, she’s always acted in good faith. She characterized the ethical breach Madsen claimed she committed as an “error in judgment,” and added she was particularly hurt by the accusation that her suggestion of misogyny stereotypes the LGBTQ community.

“Throughout my work and personal life, I have consistently demonstrated my support for inclusivity for all members of our community,” she said. “I have consistently spoken up for and celebrated the diversity of our community.”

Royer said discussions at council have been growing increasingly divisive in recent months, despite a pledge by Mayor Rob Vagramov shortly after he was elected to his position in 2018 to improve the level of discourse and cultivate healthy debate. That was only months after Port Moody became the first community in British Columbia to adopt a code of conduct bylaw for city councillors.

Proposed by veteran councillor Meghan Lahti, the code requires councillors to treat one another, city employees and the public with “courtesy, dignity and respect.”

But those have been in short order recently, with heated exchanges often driving meetings beyond the 10 p.m. close Vagramov had pledged would be a goal of his tenure.

Motions to extend have been repeatedly rejected, pushing agenda items that had yet to be addressed to subsequent meetings, creating a backlog.

On April 6, council approved a motion by the mayor to attend a series of workshops with a consultant to help “”improve effective and respectful communication.”

That came two weeks after Royer filed a notice of motion calling for a similar intervention.

Royer said council’s failures to work together don’t paint a good picture — for residents, businesses and those looking to do business with the city.

““This is about how we communicate to the community,” she said.

Madsen agreed.

He said council must “stay focused on the city’s issues and needs, and refrain from impugning one another’s characters or personal styles.”

Madsen, who described council’s current dynamic as “Hatfield-and-McCoys infighting,” said it’s time for a “big timeout” to create a new atmosphere of mutual respect.

“Port Moody is facing some big challenges and we simply don’t have cycles to spare on sidebar conflicts,” he said, adding, “I will do whatever I can to help us heal.”

The Tri-City News reached out to Vagramov for more details about the planned counselling, as well as his take on the current state of affairs, but has yet to hear back.

Lahti laid the blame for the latest tensions on Vagramov.

“The provision of leadership by the mayor, however, is an integral part of the equation,” she said in a post to her Facebook page. “Every member of council needs to feel protected by the presiding member of council. They need to know that if their rights are being violated, that person is there to ensure fairness and inclusiveness.”

Royer said she hopes council can get past its current difficulties.

“Creating a safe space for all to express concerns without fear of retribution is essential to prevent harm behind closed doors,” she said. “We must find solutions together; our community depends on us to do so.”