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Updated: Henderson responds to SCRD censure, board replacement still to be decided

This is the SCRD Board's first censure
John Henderson at the inaugural meeting of Sechelt Council in 2022.

Editor's note: the following is an updated version of a story first published Oct. 27. 

The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) board has censured its Sechelt alternate director, Mayor John Henderson, for “conduct unbecoming” and requested District of Sechelt Council remove Henderson as Sechelt’s representative on any SCRD board or committee for the remainder of his term as mayor.

The sanction and censure come following an investigation into a workplace incident between Henderson and SCRD staff last spring, which took place during a break at a public board meeting. The event was not recorded in minutes or the online streaming but was witnessed by members of the public.

Henderson characterized the incident as a “short verbal outburst, said to one person in the heat of the moment, following a contentious discussion about our dire water situation” in a statement released following the censure. Neither the SCRD nor Henderson have disclosed what was said or to whom it was said.

An independent investigator hired following the incident concluded that Henderson breached the SCRD’s Respectful Workplace Policy and Board Code of Conduct, said the Oct. 27 SCRD press release. “The SCRD has a duty to ensure the health and safety of its workers, and to take all reasonable steps to prevent or minimize workplace bullying and harassment,” it said.

While the SCRD did not release the date of the incident so as to protect the identity of the staff member involved, Henderson has said it took place April 27.

The board meeting that day was Henderson’s last as a regular director. He announced that day he was stepping back from the role as of the beginning of May and Sechelt councillor Darren Inkster would be taking over his seat. 

Discussed at the meeting was a motion put forward by Henderson requesting several detailed staff reports regarding various water matters. Also adopted during the meeting was the Board Code of Conduct, which the investigator later found Henderson had violated.

The SCRD board’s resolution to censure and make the request of Sechelt council was passed in a closed portion of its Oct. 26 board meeting. The motion, later made public in the meeting minutes, said that Henderson had been provided with a copy of the draft resolution and given the opportunity personally and via legal counsel to make submissions to the board regarding the matter.

This is the SCRD board’s first censure (the district has existed since 1967), its communications manager Aidan Buckley said in an email. He explained later that a censure is meant to draw attention to the conduct, formally express board disapproval and may serve to disassociate other board members from said conduct.

Henderson issued a statement shortly after the SCRD press release that said he was disappointed by the SCRD’s decision to issue the public censure. “To be clear, I regret my comment and that I allowed my frustrations to get the better of me. And I’ve expressed this to the SCRD directors,” he said. “Going forward, I will continue to take strong stands on important issues to our community while serving in a professional and respectful manner.”

Asked in an interview Oct. 30 if he had apologized to the staff member or SCRD board, Henderson said that in the investigation and censure process there’s been no opportunity for him to talk to the individual, and that he stands by his previously published statement of regret.

Asked how this may affect his ability to work with the SCRD and what the censure means, “We have a job to do. My commitment is to getting into action on solutions, including solutions that I put forward,” he said.

“I regret my short outburst,” he said. “We all make mistakes. It happened once and as far as I’m concerned, I’m continuing to get on with doing what I think is best for Sechelt and the Coast.” Henderson pointed to his advocacy work earlier last week in Victoria with several other members of Sechelt council in his commitment to solutions.  

While Sechelt council had been scheduled to discuss Henderson’s replacement as alternate director at its Nov. 1 meeting, the item was removed from the agenda. Sechelt chief administrative officer Andrew Yeates said he had received information late Tuesday (Oct. 31) “that requires some clarification and possibly investigation,” in response to a question from 91.7 Coast FM’s Keith VanBrabant at the meeting.

Appointments (such as SCRD alternate director) remain until modified by council, Henderson said in response to a follow up question.

Henderson served as one of two Sechelt directors on the SCRD board from his election in November 2022 to April 2023. In April 2023, he announced he was stepping back as director and would serve as the alternate director. Henderson stated his intention to serve as an SCRD director for just six months during the District of Sechelt’s inaugural meeting in November 2022, saying his focus was on addressing water supply issues. 

The SCRD will not be releasing further details of the investigation to protect the privacy of SCRD staff, said the news release. 

– With files from Connie Jordison and Keili Bartlett