Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov is heading back to work next week after saying he has been cleared of a sexual assault charge that has put him on leave since last spring.
Calling the incident that led to the allegations an “awkward date that could have benefitted from more communication,” he told a crowd of reporters outside council chambers on Thursday he has been “exonerated.”
“After having my file extensively examined by authorities for the better part of the year, the charge against me has been dropped and there is no longer a criminal case against me,” he said, reading from notes.
But the legal realities are a bit more complicated.
As part of the case being stayed, Vagramov had to complete an “alternative measures program,” in which the accused must take responsibility for their actions.
When asked whether he took responsibility, he said his story has not wavered since he was charged in the spring.
“I have been 100% consistent with the authorities from the very beginning with what I did and what I did not do,” he said. “At the end of the day, the charge has been dropped against me.”
Vagramov said he apologized to the complainant when the issue first came up last fall and recently apologized again, adding that was all that was involved in the alternative measures. He said he and the complainant had gone on several dates in 2015 and that he would have apologized at the time had he known there was an issue.
When asked if he did anything wrong, he said: “I left somebody with a negative impression and I feel awful about that.”
Last March, before taking a paid leave of absence, Vagramov said in a press conference that the allegations against him were false and that he would be “filing a suit of defamation for this continued attack on my character.”
On Thursday, he was reticent when asked whether he would be pursuing a libel case.
“It is a little bit early for that sort of stuff,” he said. “But obviously, that is a decision that will be made in the, I don’t know, coming future. Frankly, it is something that is personal and private between two people.”
Vagramov also hired a public relations firm, Peak Communicators, to handle PR as he returns to work and it, not the city, issued a press release Wednesday evening announcing Thursday's press conference.
The charge against Vagramov was announced March 28 and he immediately took a paid leave of absence, changing that several months later to an unpaid leave just as council was to meet to discuss the situation. He returned to work in September, saying his case likely wouldn't be going to trial, then resumed his leave after a 4-3 vote on council called on him to do so.
Vagramov said Thursday that time will tell whether the residents of Port Moody will welcome him back to work. He said he is looking forward to pursuing the initiatives he outlined during his 2018 election campaign.
“That is a question for the coming few weeks as far as the kinds of things we can get accomplished,” he said.
He also added that he would be following up with the provincial government to see about creating a framework that municipalities can follow when an elected official is facing legal issues. Councillors facing charges should be forced to take leave, Vagramov said, and anyone convicted of a crime should be forced out of office.
“That is something I support and that is something I intend to bring to the minister as soon as possible,” he said. “No community… in B.C. deserves to have the kind of angst that is cause by the lack of clarity.”
Around noon Thursday, the city of Port Moody issued a press release announcing Vagramov's return to office next Monday. In part, it stated: "Mayor Vagramov has indicated he plans to resume his duties as chair of the Port Moody Police Board and city of Port Moody representative on the TransLink Mayors’ Council and the Metro Vancouver board."