The stage was set for confrontation when Qualicum Beach council met for their regular meeting on Monday, but while there were a few sparks flying, there was no major political fire burning by the time the closing gavel fell.
At issue was a simmering confrontation between Mayor Teunis Westbroek and the four other members of town council over Westbroek’s replacement as the town’s regional district representative and a supposedly secret meeting held by three new councillors to review in-camera minutes from the previous council.
The bad blood exhibited since November’s election drew approximately 150 people from both sides of the debate to council chambers Monday, causing the meeting to be adjourned and moved to the Civic Centre in order to seat all in attendance.
The spark that could have ignited the hard feelings in the room came from Qualicum Beach resident and Freeman of the Town Anne Klees, who spoke as a late delegation at the meeting.
“I have lived here for 45 years and I’ve never seen a council like this,” Klees said to applause from some of those in attendance. “We are ashamed of what’s happening. We are losing our good name as a town.”
This statement drew a mixed response from the crowd, but it opened up the door to further comment, which came at the end of the meeting.
The mayor kicked things off during the comments and questions portion of the meeting, pledging that all of council will attempt to do a better job of working together.
“All of us had a pretty rough start and I believe people are ready to do better,” he said. “I don’t know if we are ready for a group hug after this, but we are working on it.”
He said council plans to sit down next week to discuss in-camera minutes and other items.
“We all want to work better in the future on your behalf, and I think I speak on behalf of all council on that,” he said.
Although that poured some oil on the troubled waters in the room, it didn’t entirely extinguish the very apparent anger in the room.
Former councillor Hilda Pearce made that clear when she expressed her deep concern about what she sees as a very negative impression being put out by some people in the media. She suggested the town take a leaf from the Regional District of Nanaimo’s book and hire a media liaison to ensure a balanced view is given to the media.
Craig Dutton’s input was more pointed. He challenged the mayor to clear up misunderstandings about whether or not he was blindsided by council’s decision to award the RDN directorship to Coun. Dave Willie.
Although he said he was aware some councillors planned to vote against his appointment, Westbroek maintained he was unaware that a majority planned to do so.
When a third and then fourth speaker took to the floor to raise concerns about the seeming bad blood on council, Westbroek again stepped in.
“I appreciate your concern,” he said. “We are going to try to make this work. We’ve all had a rough start. Nobody likes it and I am taking my part of the blame. I am going to do my best and all of council, too, will work to improve the way we do business for the town.”