Tense discussion around council table on policy

A controversial policy is now part of Penticton’s operating manual, but not without a tense discussion during a council meeting.

A controversial policy is now part of Penticton’s operating manual, but not without a tense discussion about its exact meaning during last week’s council meeting.

Mayor Dan Ashton and city manager Annette Antoniak say the intent of the “One Employee of Council” policy was only to clarify the staff hierarchy and describe Antoniak’s status, not to prevent councillors from talking directly to staff.

However, Couns. Helen Konanz, John Vassilaki and, initially, Wes Hopkin, disagreed strongly.

They felt the wording of the new policy seemed to disconnect them from city staff, instead funnelling everything through the city manager, and a strict reading of it didn’t leave room for the kind of flexibility that Ashton and Antoniak were talking about.

“Every time I read through this it makes me more uncomfortable,” said Coun. Helen Konanz. “It basically says I am not allowed to speak to staff members.”

Ashton interrupted Konanz to say that councillors were more than welcome to talk to staff members under the policy, which he felt was mainly to prevent a council member from giving direction to staff, rather than through the city manager.

The two sections that most concerned Konanz, Vassilaki and Hopkin, came in both the summary and the body of the policy.

• “This model identifies the city manager as council’s only employee; all other city employees report (directly or indirectly) to the city manager rather than to council. The city manager is the link between policy makers (council) and policy implementers (staff).”

• “All council directives, correspondence, and requests for information on behalf of the city will be channeled through the city manager who will forward to the appropriate staff and ensure follow-up actions.”

“If it is plainly read it does seem to imply the Chief Administrative Officer has a tremendous amount of authority to control information. At the same time, it is important that the CAO know all the requests for information that are going to city employees, so that no one is blindsided,” said Hopkin.

Hopkin ended his opposition when the policy was reworded slightly, dropping — at his suggestion — the phrase “and requests for information.”

“It says to me that I am not to speak to staff members. This is what I am reading here,” said Konanz, who felt that it would bottleneck the system if councillors were only able to speak to city manager.

“I understand that the intent is to smooth out the system or to possibly protect staff members. But I was elected in November to get the job done and if it means I need to speak to staff members to get jobs done, I will,” said Konanz. “What worries me about this is that it also says that staff is not allowed to speak to me. If there’s a concern or they want to talk to me, they should be able to. It’s not like a regular business or company.”

Antoniak, who’s position as city manager is at the heart of the disputed policy, disagreed with Konanz’ reading.

“That’s not actually what it says. It says I am council’s one employee,” she said, arguing that this type of policy is used in a number of other communities as well as some of the crown corporations she has been CEO of. “That is what it says in my job description for which I was hired. This is the policy that confirms that. Never has this council not been able to talk to staff or vice versa. I don’t believe you can cite one instance.”

Ashton backed Antoniak up, adding that it would never be the policy of council to forbid council from interacting with staff, but there had been problems during previous councils, and he felt a policy was needed.

“With all respect, I think this could be misinterpreted in the future and cause a lot of problem within council. If a different CAO is sitting there, he or she may not see it the same way,” said Vassilaki, who agreed there had been problems during past councils, on both staff and councillor sides. But a restrictive policy, he continued, would eventually lead to bogging down the system.

“We are treated like a bunch of kids that we are not going to be able to talk to the staff and say the right thing. I like to take care of some things myself,” said Vassilaki.

Konanz also argued the policy was not needed.

“I just don’t think that this particular addition to our policy manual needs to happen. We all need to know that we need to be respectful to our staff, that we need to come to you (Antoniak), preferably,” she said. “We don’t need to be voting on something that tells us we can’t speak to staff.”

The policy was adopted by council after a four to two vote, with Hopkin joining Ashton and Couns. Andrew Jakubeit and Garry Litke in support of the policy. Couns. Konanz and Vassilaki remained opposed, while Sentes was absent.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ponderosa Primary Care Centre in Penticton is considered a model for care clinics going forward by the South Okanagan Division of Family Practice. (Monique Tamminga)
Primary Care Clinic funding could be a cure for South Okanagan Similkameen doctor shortage

Ponderosa Primary Care Centre in Penticton is a model for future care clinics and doctor recruitment

Interior Health reported two more COVID-19 deaths at Sunnybank Retirement Center in Oliver Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (File photo)
COVID-19 claims two more lives of Sunnybank Retirement Centre residents

Five residents of the Oliver care home have died since the outbreak was first declared

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

Okanagan Clinical Trials is looking at gut bacteria as a way of slowing down the development of Alzheimer’s. (Alzheimer Society of B.C. photo)
Okanagan study looking for volunteers of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

The study is looking at how gut bacteria may help slow the disease

Penticton City Hall. (File photo)
City of Penticton seeking grants to fund public washroom improvements

The grant would fund washrooms at Gyro Park and Riverside Park

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Cowichan Tribes chief Squtxulenhuw (William Seymour) confirmed the first death in the First Nations community from COVID-19. (File photo)
Cowichan Tribes confirms 1st death amid growing COVID-19 outbreak

Shelter-in-place order has been extended to Feb. 5

(Pixabay)
B.C. teacher gets 1 day suspension after ‘aggressively’ throwing dumbbell at student

Documents show the weight would have hit the student if they didn’t catch it

Vernon’s Barb and Denis Murdoch, pictured at Lake Louise in 1987, will be inducted into the builder category of the B.C. Volleyball Hall of Fame, Class of 2021, on Feb. 15. (Murdoch family photo)
North Okanagan volleyball couple earn Hall of Fame call

Denis and Barb Murdoch will be inducted into B.C. Volleyball Hall of Fame in builder category

Eagle River Secondary Grade 9 student Cody Hutchinson spearheaded the Digital Detox Challenge in which participants will give up their cell phones during school days for two weeks straight. (Contributed)
Sicamous student challenges himself, peers to go nine school days cell phone free

Cody Hutchinson hopes Digital Detox Challenge will give students opportunity to reconnect

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
B.C. ramping up screening for faster-spreading COVID-19 ‘variants of concern’

B.C. has sequenced about 11,000 COVID-positive samples since last February

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to reports of a structure fire on Valleyview Place Jan. 26, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Vernon Morning Star)
Fire snuffed in Vernon home

No visible smoke, flames from area of reported structure fire

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Kevin Lee Barrett pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault of his mother Eleanor Holmes on Tuesday, Jan. 26. (File)
West Kelowna man who beat his mom could be sentenced up to 9 years

Kevin Barrett entered a surprise guilty plea to the lesser charge of aggravated assault on Tuesday morning

Most Read