A lengthy and emotional public input segment at Tuesday’s Port Moody council meeting led to a dramatic vote in which the majority of councillors called for Mayor Rob Vagramov to step aside until his sexual assault case is resolved.
But in an email to The Tri-City News Wednesday, Vagramov showed no signs that he’s considering taking a leave of absence.
“While I appreciate and take seriously input from the public, I am not as enthusiastic about [Coun.] Diana Dilworth’s attempts to cling on to the 3-3 veto power that has stonewalled city council for the past six months,”” he wrote.
He continued: “Folks ask me what council has actually accomplished in the past year, and sadly there is not much to point to in the past six months due to this partisan stonewalling on issues that the public spoke loudly on. I am pleased that at last night’s meeting we were able to get city hall back on track. “
The previous evening, after the vote, Vagramov said, “I thank council for their input” and promised to take what he heard at the nearly two-hour public comment period to heart. He did not give a timeline for any decision and, following the vote, continued to preside over the meeting.
Outside council chambers, Coun. Diana Dilworth, who made the motion, told reporters the mayor was in a “conflict of interest” for voting on the matter, a charge she made during the council debate and which Vagramov refuted, saying he “checked with staff.”
Prior to the vote, dozens of people spoke, including women who said they had been sexually assaulted, which prompted comments of “Me, too,” from some members of the audience.
During one dramatic moment, councillors and members of the audience were asked stand if they agreed with the motion. Dozens stood, along with four members of Port Moody council: Meghan Lahti, Amy Lubik, Zoe Royer and Diana Dilworth. The other members of council — Vagramov and his close supporters, councillors Hunter Madsen and Steve Milani — did not.
Some speakers said Vagramov should put his political agenda aside for the good of the city and take a leave of absence until his legal issues are settled while others said he should remain in office because people who are charged with a crime are innocent until proven guilty.
“I encourage you to listen to the wind chime of your conscience,” said Stirling Ward while Tyler Brown called Dilworth’s motion a “desperate measure” from the mayor’s opposition and said, “Work like a team like you’ve all committed, too.”
One speaker was New Westminster Coun. Mary Trentadue, who said the mayor should step aside while he deals with his legal issues. She also called on the provincial government to establish an ethics committee to establish policy that would require an elected official to take a paid leave if charged with a criminal offence. Trentadue said she “shouldn’t have to sit next to someone” who has been charged with sexual assault.
PoMo Coun. Lahti was emotional when she explained why she wanted Vagramov to take a further leave (he took leave over the spring and summer but returned Sept. 9, saying his case was taking up less of his time).
Wiping her eyes, Lahti said: “I have never felt so upset about what’s happening in our community.”
And while she said she wants council to work together and be respectful, the mayor should step aside. “It’s not about whether you’re guilty or innocent, it’s about the ability of our council to do our job.”
Coun. Madsen also shared an emotional story about the challenges of living life as a gay man, with potential of not being believed if he was assaulted, especially when a young man. And while he said he had sympathy with women in the crowd — and he believed Vagramov should not have returned to work when he did — he said he does not support a further leave for the mayor because it would only be for four or five weeks, not enough time for an acting mayor to get up to speed.
(The next court date to deal with the charge is Nov. 13 in Port Coquitlam. Both the special prosecutor and Vagramov's lawyer said they are pursuing alternate measures to resolve the case that could take place ouside the courts.)
“He has every right to return [to the mayor’s job] under the law,” Madsen noted.
In the end, council voted on three motions: one to ask the mayor to step aside until his legal issues are dealt with, which was approved in a 4-3 vote breaking down along gender lines; another to ask the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to pass legislation requiring elected officials to go on paid leave if criminally charged, which was also approved, with the mayor supporting the motion; and a third to ask Vagramov to resign if, after his case is settled, he is not totally exonerated, which was defeated, with Vagramov, Madsen, Milani and Lubik voting against it.
The Tri-City News has reached out to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs on a possible timeline for legislation, but has not yet heard back.
More to come...