Mayor, councillors question if Rice can be councillor and MLA-elect

Mayor Jack Mussallem and members of council are questioning whether Jennifer Rice can hold the MLA and city councillor position.

As residents around Prince Rupert wait to hear the plans of city councillor and MLA-elect Jennifer Rice, most who sit around council chambers with her are questioning if holding both positions can be achieved.

Rice has indicated that the question is when the best time to step down would be to have the least impact on the community, but fellow elected officials said they can’t see her holding both positions for any period of time.

“I am happy for her, that’s her new position, but she will have to step down… How can she possibly hold both? It is a conflict of interest,” added Coun. Nelson Kinney.

“It would be very hard to do. Usually when you are an MLA you have joint committees, and if you are on one of these they hold forums around the province. I think that would make it difficult to give both the needed attention,” said Mayor Jack Mussallem.

Coun. Anna Ashley said she wishes Rice the best, but that new MLAs will have a lot of time needed to learn the ins-and-outs of the job.

“There is a lot of time expected as an MLA, and council is a part-time position that takes a lot of your time … Jennifer doesn’t do anything halfway, so I think for her own sake it would be too tough for her to do both,” she said.

Whether or not a byelection would be held depends on when Rice leaves council. Corporate administrator and 2011 chief elections officer Robert Grodecki estimates a byelection would cost the City of Prince Rupert between $15,000 and $25,000 for advertising, staff time and other requirements of the election process.

“Most of the costs are fixed … the rules and regulations to be followed are the same whether it is a full election or for just one seat,” he explained.

“You have to do the same preparation for the candidate packages, all the advertising is the same. You still have to do advance polling and have to divide the electorate into different areas.”

At the same time, remuneration for a city councillor is approximately $1,000 per month, meaning if Rice were to resign in the new year the total cost to the city would be $8,000.

“I have no idea if she will come back in June, July, August, or when, to resign from council. If she were to tender it sooner than later, I could see the city having a byelection in September or October,” said Mussallem.

“That is a lot of money for us to put out given the position the city is in,” said Kinney.

Ashley, however, said there needs to be a full and committed council sitting in the chamber.

“The fact is that for a lot of stuff we do on council, it’s important to have as many viewpoints on council as possible. When it comes to voting, it’s best to have seven voices,” she said, noting it also creates procedural concerns.

“It does put us in a bit of a quandary because with six there is more likely to be a tie and in the event of a tie the motion is defeated … I think having six people there is not a good number. I think there is a reason we have seven councillors and we need seven councillors.”

For her part, Rice maintains she will step down when she feels it’s best.

“I was elected two weeks ago and the writ has not yet been returned. As I’ve said before I will be stepping down from council at an appropriate time,” she said.

Response to the election of municipal councillors and mayors around the province has been varied.  Dawson Creek Mayor and Peace River South MLA-elect Mike Bernier resigned his seat on May 24 to trigger a September byelection, Penticton Mayor and MLA-elect Dan Ashton stepped down and offered to pay for the byelection, Pitt Meadows councillor and Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows MLA-elect Doug Bing has not decided if he will stay on council or not but said he would forgo his salary if he stays on council.