The City of New Westminster will hire a contractor to oversee a by-election – and send the bill to the school district – if one is required for the school board.
At Monday’s meeting, city council considered a motion related to the potential need for a by-election for the New Westminster school board.
“All costs are borne by the school board,” said Lisa Spitale, the city’s chief administrative officer. “Yes, we have a role, and I suspect what we will do is we will contract it out. Right now, we have our own staff shortages, and I suspect the only way we can do it is to contract it out and then basically send the invoices to the school district.”
Given the staffing challenges at city hall, Coun. Daniel Fontaine questioned the timeline and process for holding a by-election.
Jacque Killawee, who has served as the city’s chief election officer in past civic elections, said many of the city’s election contracts actually run over four years, so she doesn’t anticipate a need to go out to procurement for a contract.
A motion from Coun. Paul Minhas stems from the online activities of trustee Dee Beattie, who took a medical leave of absence from her position on school board in June after it was revealed that she had used a fake Twitter account to troll various people, including parents, community members and people working in the education field. Although the board has no power to force Beattie to step down under provisions in the B.C. School Act, many have called for her resignation – which could trigger the need for a by-election as the next civic election isn’t scheduled until the fall of 2026.
At Monday night’s meeting, council considered a motion related to “increasing trust and accountability for civic officials” in New Westminster.
Minhas said it’s now September, and action needs to be taken to be “getting things right.”
“So, where we – the school board, the council and the city – can move forward,” he said. “It's disruptive to the city, and as well as to the parents and everybody else that has been a part of this. And I'll leave it at that.”
While motivating his motion, Minhas named Beattie, spoke about “her behaviour” and began to speak about some of her actions. Mayor Patrick Johnstone said Minhas that he was “on the edge” of council’s code of conduct and cautioned him to be careful not to violate the City of New Westminster’s council procedures bylaw and code of conduct.
“We should avoid allegations which go to the character, that impugn the character, of individuals or organizations specifically,” said corporate officer Peter DeJong, when asked to clarify council’s requirements.
After some discussion on the motion, council unanimously supported the part of the motion that would have council call upon all elected officials to engender public trust by abiding to key principles, such as those found in council’s code of conduct – integrity, accountability, leadership, respect and openness.
Fontaine said the motion calls for reinforcement of those principles, by both council and school board, at a time when he believes the “public has lost trust” in some of its elected officials, particularly at the school board.
“So, I'm very supportive of this,” he said. “I'm also very supportive of hopefully seeing a by-election coming to the school board very soon. Parents deserve it. The teachers deserve it. The students deserve it. They deserve to have seven trustees all at the table functioning and actively working.”
A second part of Minhas’s motion – asking the city’s chief electoral officer to report back to council on the city’s state of readiness for a by-election and the budget impacts of a possible school trustee by-election – was unanimously defeated. By that point in the meeting, council had heard from staff about the impacts of a by-election and no longer felt the motion was warranted.