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Council says no to city letterhead policy

Motion to institute a policy and tracking system narrowly defeated in 4-3 vote

By: Victoria Paterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 07, 2014 06:00 am

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There will be no policy governing the use of city and city council letterhead.

On Monday night, council voted 4-3 against a motion that would have seen such a policy developed. Couns. Sheena Hughes, Cam MacKay and Wes Brodhead voted in favour of the motion, which was brought forward by Hughes.

Mayor Nolan Crouse and Couns. Cathy Heron, Gilles Prefontaine and Tim Osborne voted against the motion.

The motion included a request for a correspondence tracking system, which city manager Patrick Draper sought clarity on, citing concerns it could have significant impact on staff workload.

Hughes brought forward the motion after a presentation in late April to council by Ted Durham, who drew to council’s attention an incident where the mayor wrote to Durham’s employer after Durham sent a missive to the mayor.

Durham had requested such a policy be created and Hughes obliged by making a motion.

“Once you send something on letterhead, it is no longer personal correspondence,” Hughes said.

She has experience writing correspondence for the provincial government where she was handed a manual on the protocols, and had expected something similar when elected to council.

“We need to take steps to tighten it and decrease the liability,” she said.

She clarified that while there was an electronic records management system already in place, she’d like to see copies of handwritten notes kept for the record.

“If we don’t have a copy of what’s being said it’s hard for us to defend ourselves,” she said. “If we have this it’ll give us some protocol on how we’re supposed to behave.”

A motion from MacKay to postpone voting on Hughes’ motion was defeated in a 4-3 vote that split along the same lines as the main vote.

MacKay had wanted a delay because of the addition of the tracking system to the motion, which he believed changed the motion substantially enough he wanted more information before voting.

Council had a mixed bag of reactions, with Heron saying she doesn’t feel it’s a priority, MacKay expressing concerns about the tracking system but in favour of “prudent internal control” and Brodhead calling it an “interesting topic.”

“I honestly believe that guidelines for the use of formal written correspondence on behalf of the city is not a bad thing,” Brodhead said, noting it would provide guidance to council and staff.

The mayor, who authored the note that triggered the issue, pointed out he writes hundreds of handwritten notes a year. He said whether he’s writing on a napkin or city letterhead, he’s acting as the mayor.

“I am the mayor. But I also have the right to comment using my own notepad to others,” he said, noting the letter in question was sent on the mayor’s stationery.

Tracking all of the emails councillors get, not to mention notes they send, would be a lot of work, Crouse said.

In addition to the notes and emails, he also emcees and is a certified auctioneer, Crouse said.

No matter what he does, there’s going to be moments in time where people will be critical about what he says, he said.

“So to suggest that I’m going to censor everything that I write and say all of the time is ludicrous, because of one handwritten note to one person who suggested litigation, is ludicrous,” Crouse said.

Durham was reached for comment on Tuesday morning, and was disappointed the motion was defeated.

“By putting this motion down, they’re basically saying ‘we don’t care that this happened,’” Durham said.

He suggested that if council had passed the motion, it would have been acknowledging there was a problem with the mayor’s action, possibly opening them up to legal action.

“Somebody could have apologized,” Durham said.

While Durham didn’t lose his job over the note the mayor sent to his employer, he is concerned a similar incident could result in someone else losing their job.

“It puts fear in people,” Durham said, suggesting citizens might be concerned to make public political comment if they think there might be reprisal.

He said he’ll be sending a follow-up letter to the mayor, council and the chamber of commerce.


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