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Kentville council votes to review code of conduct

Open Arms executive director John Andrew says the organization has big plans for the former Kentville Christian Reform Church property.
Open Arms executive director John Andrew is shown with the former Kentville Christian Reform Church property, 118 Oakdene Avenue, in this file photo. - Kirk Starratt
KENTVILLE, N.S. —

Kentville’s town council is taking a crack at revamping its code of conduct.
This decision comes in light of recent discussions regarding how reports of perceived violations have been handled.
The topic resulted in a spirited conversation in council chambers during a live-streamed council advisory committee meeting Oct. 15.
Coun. Cathy Maxwell contended that it was unclear how complaints were investigated.
She said she’s looking for a well-defined investigation process to be followed that ensures council is in the know.
“I think that this council deserves to be able to be involved,” she said.
Maxwell said it was not clear if prior complaints were reviewed, or how the matters were addressed.

RECENT COMPLAINTS
Mayor Sandra Snow clarified that meetings are governed by Robert’s Rules of Order, not the code of conduct. For this reason, the mayor said any complaints related to the Sept. 30 council meeting will not be entertained as code violations.
Coun. John Andrew, executive director of Open Arms, walked out of the Sept. 30 town council meeting amid a discussion about public engagement around potential future uses of 118 Oakdene Ave.
Prior to the meeting, he described council as “increasingly toxic” in a Facebook post published Sept. 29.
“This has become a downright abusive working environment and I may therefore opt out of participation in meetings (for my well-being) with this group until people can behave with some level of decency,” he wrote in the same post.
Open Arms has pitched an affordable housing project for 118 Oakdene Ave., but Kentville’s town council has not supported the non-profit organization’s plan for the property.
Andrew has recused himself from council discussions regarding the development, but he’s raised the ire of some fellow council members with views shared on social media.
Deputy mayor Cate Savage publicly chastised Andrew for this behaviour in open session Sept. 30.
Snow advised council that, in her view, Andrew’s conduct was addressed when Savage read the letter expressing concerns about the claims he posted about council on social media.
“I feel that we have achieved a place where we can move forward. At our last meeting, Coun. Andrew was publicly stated for all of his transgressions in this room. There’s nothing more we can do… and to keep bringing up the exact same ones doesn’t move us forward,” said Snow, who noted that prior complaints were investigated by her, in conjunction with former chief administrative officer Mark Phillips.

ENFORCEMENT CONCERNS
Coun. Craig Gerrard lamented about the lack of disciplinary measures in place to address confirmed code violations.
“Why is there nothing we can do?”
Town solicitor Geoffrey Muttart advised that the options for imposing penalties are “extremely limited.”
“There really are no teeth to the code of conduct when it comes to penalizing someone,” Muttart said.
Gerrard equated sharing disparaging remarks about council on social media to talking to someone on the street.
“I’ve lost all faith in the code of conduct, so whatever we’ve got coming forward I will not support because it will not be enforced,” he said.
Snow pointed to the provincial Municipal Government Act as a factor contributing to enforcement-related issues.
“There’s nothing we can do about it, and that’s the problem,” she said. “But it doesn’t rest with this council. This rests with the Province of Nova Scotia.”
“Well, it’s making this council look bad,” Gerrard said.
“I’ll leave it at that.”

WEIGHTY MOMENT
Andrew said he’s open to talking things through when someone has an issue with him.
“When I have a problem with someone, I go talk to that person and I have invited that from members of this council. I’ve said come to me, talk to me — never has that happened,” he said.
He added that Savage publicly reading a statement calling his actions into question was a weighty moment for him.
“I was berated by a councillor whom I have deep respect for.”
He challenged councillors to make the most of the rest of their term as elected officials.
“Guess what: you don’t like me? Big deal — lots of people don’t like me. And I would just say, get over it,” said Andrew. “We’ve got one year left. This is an opportunity. We have an opportunity this last year to get some stuff done and surely there’s a few things we can agree on.”
Council unanimously voted in favour of conducting a special meeting to review the Code of Conduct Policy. They agreed that each councillor will prepare a document review prior to the council advisory meeting in January.

MOTIONS DEFEATED
Andrew would later take the floor to table two unsuccessful motions at the Oct. 15 meeting.
The first called on council to request a Section 12 inquiry through the attorney general into conflict of interest allegations relating to Gerrard “concerning the large rental family company in Kentville with five properties on Oakdene Avenue and on either side of 118 Oakdene.”
This motion was seconded by Coun. Eric Bolland for discussion, but defeated in a vote.
Gerrard briefly addressed council before the vote.
“Coun. Andrew individually has the power to investigate me for a conflict of interest, or Coun. Maxwell for a conflict of interest, no different than any other citizen by taking up their own legal, and it sounds to me like he wants the town to pay for his inquiry,” said Gerrard. “That’s all I’ll say.”
Andrew tabled a second motion, this time asking for Section 12 inquiry into allegations that Maxwell was in conflict of interest for “advocating for her brother’s development property resulting in zoning changes into a draft document that resulted in the property belonging to her brother being up-zoned, while the zoning upgrade the draft had applied to 118 Oakdene was removed.”
This motion failed, with no seconder supporting it moving forward to a vote.
Prior to the votes, Andrew noted that both Gerrard and Maxwell consistently voted against motions relating to the advancement of the project Open Arms proposed for 118 Oakdene Ave.

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