Governance audit asks Sechelt mayor to apologize to council

An independent audit meant to address dysfunction among a mayor and council in a small municipality on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast says elected officials need to make changes if they are to govern appropriately during the last two years of their term, starting with the mayor making amends.

A 30-page executive summary of the audit of the District of Sechelt's governance includes five pages of recommendations that direct the mayor and council on their roles, how they should treat each other, how they should treat staff, and how they should all work together to govern the municipality of around 10,000 residents.

The report, prepared by George B. Cuff & Associates Ltd., says council is not accomplishing enough due to turmoil.

"This 'turmoil' is the result of the poor relationship between the Mayor and Councillors, which began shortly after the election and has continued to this date, and the totally inadequate level of respect and trust between the Mayor and CAO (chief administrative officer)," it reads.

A June 2024 independent audit of governance in Sechelt, B.C., says that Mayor John Henderson should apologize to the council as a first step toward attempting to work together harmoniously.
A June 2024 independent audit of governance in Sechelt, B.C., says that Mayor John Henderson should apologize to the council as a first step toward attempting to work together harmoniously. (District of Sechelt)

The audit was initiated in February by the district's director of corporate and community services and specifically recommends Sechelt Mayor Henderson begin making amends with an apology, but does not specify for what.

The audit says without a public apology from Henderson, "it will fall to the rest of Council to take corrective measures to effectively penalize the Mayor for behaviour which is causing dysfunction in the organization."

The audit says that includes any sanctions the municipality can determine through its council code of conduct bylaw.

Henderson did not respond to a request for comment on the audit or for details on how council plans to adopt the changes it proposes.

'Move forward'

Second-term councillor Alton Toth said in an email to CBC News, "all I'm comfortable saying is that Council asked for this work to be undertaken to help us move forward in a more productive and positive manner."

Council was to hold its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m.

The governance dysfunction in Sechelt is similar to other hotspots in B.C., like Harrison Hot Springs and Kamloops, where there has been nearly two years of acrimony since the 2022 election.

In the spring, the provincial minister of municipal affairs reiterated her expectation that local governments get along and govern under B.C.'s  Community Charter.

"I expect members of local government councils and boards across the province to behave in a manner that furthers the good governance of their communities," she said in a statement to CBC News through her ministry. "This includes conducting council meetings effectively despite differing views."

In Sechelt, Henderson was elected as mayor for the second time in October 2022 with 1,399 votes, about 36 per cent of the vote. He was previously mayor of the district from 2011 to 2014. In the 2011 election, he received nearly 50 per cent of the vote. In 2014, he was defeated by Bruce Milne.

In the 2022 election, Henderson, a chartered accountant and entrepreneur, ran on a platform promising to ensure an adequate water supply for the community, address homelessness and keep property tax increases low.

Last November, Henderson resigned from his role as alternate director with the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) after he was censured for what he called a "short outburst" in April 2023.

Leonard Lee, the board chair of the SCRD said in a statement the comments were directed at a staff member and "we do not tolerate any comments or actions that create a toxic workplace."

In tendering his resignation to the SCRD board, Henderson said in a statement, "I have expressed my regret. I believe this is where the matter should end."

The full audit report was not made public as it references specific individuals, so there are no specific details about actions from council or staff illustrating the dysfunction. Council meetings are posted online.

Other recommendations from the audit include directives that all council members abide by a protocol to treat each other with respect and not speak "disparagingly of any member either directly or by innuendo," pursue a CAO performance review within the next 60 days and find experienced municipal strategic planning facilitators to work with council.